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article imageFDA grilled for dropping the ball as vaping deaths rise to eleven

By Karen Graham     Sep 26, 2019 in Health
The FDA came under fire from lawmakers on Wednesday for dropping the ball in regulating the vaping industry, even as teen use soared and the number of vaping-related deaths has risen.
The Congressional hearing marks the first time the acting FDA commissioner Dr. Ned Sharpless has appeared before Congress since U.S. health officials identified a mysterious lung disease traced back to vaping, reports CNBC.
Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, blamed the spike in teenage e-cigarette use and the resulting illnesses and deaths on a 2017 decision by the Food and Drug Administration to delay its review of those products.
In 2017, under former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the FDA pushed back the deadline to start reviewing e-cigarettes to 2022 from 2018. A U.S. district court sided with public health groups that sued the agency for shirking its duties, ordering the FDA in July to start its review next year.
“I firmly believe that many aspects of the youth vaping epidemic could have been addressed if the FDA had moved forward with reviewing all e-cigarettes on the market when it first had the chance two years ago," Pallone said. “Here we are over two years later, and unfortunately my concerns have come to fruition."
New deaths associated with vaping
On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Health posted an updated case count to include one death. On Wednesday, the Georgia Department of Public Health also reported one death. These two deaths bring the case count to 11 nationwide.
There is little information on the death in Florida, however, Georgia - a state that has recorded nine cases of vaping-illnesses and the one death -says the deceased patient had a history of "heavy nicotine vaping" and did not report the use of other vaping substances such as THC, according to CNN News.
State health departments in nearly every state told NBC News that they are actively investigating more than 1,000 cases of the illnesses. This number is much higher than the CDC's official case count of 530 vaping-illnesses which only includes confirmed or probable cases.
Despite the investigations by the FDA, CDC, state health departments and local physicians, no single substance has been identified as being the cause of the illnesses. The FDA has received over 300 vape product samples, to date, and has tested about half of the samples for nicotine, THC, pain-killers and other substances.
Dr. Sharpless told the committee that nearly half the products that contained THC also contained an ingredient, vitamin E acetate. That's an oil that has "no business being in lungs," he added. This finding does not explain all the illnesses being recorded, meaning there could be a number of causes.
"There may be a particular problematic source in California, and something different going on on the East Coast," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director. Schuchat also testified before the subcommittee Wednesday.
She said the investigation cannot keep up with the rising numbers of illnesses. "The data are coming in as we speak," Schuchat said. "I’m extremely frustrated with the pace of our investigation."
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