US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions

Harkin Joins Members of Congress in Call for Ban of E-Cigarettes on Capitol Grounds

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.—To ensure that visitors and staff are protected from the potential dangers posed by electronic cigarettes and their vapor, U.S. Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and U.S. Representative Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) today called on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the House Office Building Commission to include electronic cigarettes in existing prohibitions banning smoking in all public places on Capitol Grounds and within twenty-five feet from entrances.

Electronic cigarettes – or “e-cigarettes” – are not currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and no clinical studies have been submitted to the FDA to verify the safety or long-term health effects of these products or the vapor they release. An analysis of e-cigarettes conducted by the FDA in 2009 found the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, and raised concerns regarding the safety of e-cigarettes, both for current users and for bystanders exposed to their vapor. 

“The [House and Senate] have a long-standing restriction on smoking within public spaces in order to protect the public against the harmful health impacts of second hand smoke.  Given preliminary FDA research finding harmful chemicals present in e-cigarettes, measures should be taken to ensure that the public is equally protected from the potential dangers posed by e-cigarettes and their vapor,” the Members of Congress wrote. “In the absence of evidence demonstrating the safety of e-cigarettes, particularly for individuals exposed to their vapor, we ask [that e-cigarettes be included] in the existing prohibition on smoking. This is an appropriate precautionary step to promote public health and maintain a safe environment for staff and visitors of the institution and its grounds.”

Responding to the growing popularity of tobacco products like e-cigarettes among young people, in September, Harkin, Durbin, Waxman, Blumenthal, Markey, Brown, Boxer, and five other Members of Congress called on nine e-cigarette makers to provide additional information regarding the sale, distribution, labeling, and marketing of their products to children and teens. Currently, e-cigarettes are not subject to federal laws and regulations that apply to traditional cigarettes such as the prohibition on selling to persons younger than 18, distribution of free samples, television and radio ads, and having characterizing fruit flavors that appeal to kids. A copy of that letter is available here.

In December, Durbin, Brown, Boxer, and Markey called on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to promptly complete its review of a proposed rule from the FDA, which would expand the FDA’s regulatory authority over tobacco products. A copy of that letter is available here.

In April, Durbin, Blumenthal, Brown and U.S. Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Jack Reed (D-RI) called on the FDA to issue “deeming regulations” asserting regulatory authority over tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, and to restrict the sale, distribution and marketing of e-cigarettes and other nicotine products to children and young adults. A copy of that letter is available here.

The text of today’s letter to the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration is below and copies of both letters are attached.

 

February 4, 2014

 

Honorable Charles Schumer

Chairman

U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and

Administration

305 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

Honorable Pat Roberts

Ranking Member

U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and

Administration

305 Russell Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

Dear Chairman Schumer and Ranking Member Roberts:

We write to urge the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to include electronic cigarettes in the existing prohibition banning smoking in all public places and unassigned spaces within the Senate Wing of the Capitol, the Senate office buildings, and within twenty-five feet from entrances.

Electronic cigarettes, also called e-cigarettes, are battery-operated devices that simulate traditional combustible cigarettes.  E-cigarettes contain cartridges filled with flavors, chemicals, and the highly addictive substance, nicotine, which are vaporized and inhaled by the user.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), e-cigarette use is growing rapidly.  Between 2010 and 2011, the number of U.S. adults who use e-cigarettes doubled. Further, a CDC study released in September 2013 found that in just one year, from 2011 to 2012, the percentage of middle and high school students who have ever used e-cigarettes more than doubled.

In spite of the growing popularity of e-cigarettes and limited research on their long-term health effects, e-cigarettes are currently not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  Furthermore, no clinical studies have been submitted to the FDA to verify the safety or long-term health effects of these products or the vapor they release.  However, in 2009, FDA conducted an analysis of a sample of e-cigarettes.  The analysis found significant quality control issues such as the presence of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, including diethylene glycol, an ingredient commonly found in antifreeze. FDA also found that different samples of the same product emitted markedly different nicotine levels, indicating that some manufacturers are using substandard or non-existent quality control measures.  This analysis raises concerns regarding the safety of e-cigarettes, both for current users and for bystanders exposed to their vapor. 

The Senate has a long-standing restriction on smoking within public spaces in order to protect the public against the harmful health impacts of second hand smoke.  Given preliminary FDA research finding harmful chemicals present in e-cigarettes, measures should be taken to ensure that the public is equally protected from the potential dangers posed by e-cigarettes and their vapor.  In the absence of evidence demonstrating the safety of e-cigarettes, particularly for individuals exposed to their vapor, we ask the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration to include e-cigarettes in the existing prohibition on smoking.  This is an appropriate precautionary step to promote public health and maintain a safe environment for staff and visitors of the institution and its grounds.

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