Sarbanes Slams Trump Administration’s Failure to Address the Youth Tobacco Crisis and Questions HHS Secretary Azar about Bizarre Plan to Remove the FDA’s Tobacco Oversight Authority

At a House Subcommittee on Health Hearing today, Congressman John Sarbanes (D-Md.) questioned U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar about the Trump Administration’s failure to rein in Big Tobacco, reduce youth vaping and prevent another generation from becoming addicted to nicotine.

The Congressman also pressed Secretary Azar about the Trump Administration’s outlandish proposal remove the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) ability to regulate the tobacco industry at a time when Americans – especially teenagers – are increasingly using e-cigarettes and other harmful vaping products.

“Secretary Azar, you certainly know the popularity of e-cigarettes has recently led to an unprecedented surge in youth tobacco use and it is bringing back – with a vengeance – the tobacco epidemic in this country that we’ve worked so hard to curb,” said Congressman Sarbanes. “It shows why we have to improve the law and [it’s] something that this committee has been working on.”

Sarbanes continued: “Unfortunately, the Trump Administration is now proposing – as I understand from the budget – removing FDA’s oversight of tobacco products in favor of an untested agency that will take years to get off the ground, which threatens to set us back even further. I’m perplexed that the Administration would decide to do this – remove FDA’s authority [and] alter the agency’s public health mission, which includes making ‘tobacco-related death and disease a part of America’s past, not America’s future, and, by doing so, ensuring a healthier life for every family.’ This latest move is kind of breathtaking. It makes no sense. It’s a crazy thing to do by the Administration, which unfortunately hasn’t taken significant action against big tobacco as more of our nation's youth are becoming more addicted.”

Sarbanes concluded: “In January, after heavy lobbying from big tobacco – as we understand it – and the vaping industry, and listening to partisan political consultants like Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, the Administration reversed course and … announced a policy which failed to ban all flavored e-cigarettes, allowing popular menthol cartridges to stay on the market and allowing all flavored disposable e-cigarettes and open tank e-cigarettes to proliferate through our nation's school yards, which is exactly what they’re doing. And I’m concerned with removing this authority from the FDA, which is part of the proposal, could lead to even more loopholes and more industry influence…. Why you would propose – at this moment in time, when this epidemic risks, in a sense, overtaking the dimensions of the previous tobacco epidemic that we saw in this country – by zeroing out that authority and moving it to an untested new agency, which by the way, I think would be more susceptible to political influence of the kind that I was just recounting then it is now. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I urge you to reconsider that.”