CHICAGO — Citing a study showing a correlation between vaping and COVID-19, an Illinois congressman is calling for a federal ban on all e-cigarettes — though a vaping industry advocate called it a publicity stunt.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from Schaumburg and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, wrote a letter to the Food and Drug Administration this week calling for the agency to “clear the market of all e-cigarettes, temporarily, for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.”
The letter repeated a request the representative made on April 1 after preliminary studies made similar findings.
But Krishnamoorthi said the case for a ban is stronger following a study that found that young people ages 13-24 who had ever used e-cigarettes were five times more likely to develop COVID-19.
“The youth vaping epidemic is colliding with the pandemic to create a very dangerous situation,” he said. “Our young people are the major vectors for spreading COVID-19 right now, so to the extent vaping contributes to that threat, we have a real public health emergency on our hands.”
Krishnamoorthi clarified that he was referring to nicotine vaping devices that were the subject of the study, not those sold for legal cannabis use. He asked for the agency to respond by Tuesday.
Under the Obama and Trump administrations, the FDA has taken years to regulate electronic cigarettes. The agency announced its authority over electronic nicotine delivery systems, or ENDS, as it calls them, in 2016. In January this year, the FDA banned fruit- and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, but allowed menthol and tobacco flavors.
The FDA has declared an “epidemic” of youth e-cigarette use, and took action against more than 1,300 retailers and five manufacturers it blamed for perpetuating youth access. It is just now approaching a Sept. 9 deadline for businesses to submit Premarket Tobacco Product Applications for approval of e-cigarettes deemed “appropriate for the protection of public health.”
The FDA wrote in a statement that cigarette smoking suppresses the immune system and increases the risk of respiratory infections, so smokers may be at increased risk of COVID-19. Whether e-cigarette use does so as well, the FDA said, is not known.
E-cigarette makers maintain that they help many smokers quit or reduce use of combustible cigarettes, thereby eliminating the tar and other products that make tobacco use the single largest preventable cause of death and disease in the United States.
Gregory Conley, president of the industry-funded American Vaping Association, noted that the study found no significant association between COVID and current users who vaped in the past 30 days, which he said undercuts the argument that occasional use in the distant past may play a role. He also cited a recent study in the British Medical Journal of 8 million patients that found that those who smoked were, surprisingly, less likely to get COVID-19.
“The data is not consistent across the study,” Conley said.
Conley said Krishnamoorthi, who is running for reelection and has crusaded against youth use of e-cigarettes, was seeking publicity, saying his request had little chance of success.
The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the University of California at San Francisco. One author, Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, is executive director of the Tobacco Prevention Toolkit, which tries to prevent youth tobacco use.
She said the study found that those who both vaped and smoked in the past 30 days were seven times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19. She explained why she found the increased risk due to combined use significant, despite the lack of a link between COVID-19 and vaping in the past 30 days.
“The usual pattern of use for our sample is both e-cigs and cigs,” Halpern-Felsher wrote. “However, most teens START tobacco through e-cigs so we believe that e-cigs are the driver here.”
She said vapers are putting themselves at risk, and that it’s time for the FDA to regulate vaping products.
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