Utah Sen. Mitt Romney pushes, but FDA nominee won’t pledge to ban e-cigarette flavors

Despite pressure from Utah Sen. Mitt Romney and others, President Donald Trump’s pick to head the Food and Drug Administration refused Wednesday to commit to banning flavored e-cigarettes.

Instead, nominee Stephen Hahn pointed out that a final policy is under consideration and, “I don’t want to prejudge that. I don’t have all the facts that they might have.”

Hahn, an oncologist who specialized in lung cancer, agreed with members of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the increasing numbers of children vaping and the health risks that have recently emerged are a matter of some urgency.

“I think it’s a serious issue and I think it requires bold action to keep these out of the hands of kids. I do not want to see another generation of kids addicted to tobacco and nicotine,” Hahn said.

This 2014 photo provided by The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center shows Stephen Hahn. President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration sidestepped questions on the future of a 2-month-old plan to ban most flavored e-cigarettes. Hahn told Senate lawmakers on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, that a recent wave of underage vaping is an “urgent, important crisis” and demands “aggressive action.” But he said he wants to review more data before deciding on an approach. (The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center via AP)

After the confirmation hearing, Romney said in a statement that Hahn "should have affirmed the need for a flavor ban based on the evidence seen so far. ... We have a health emergency on our hands, and the administration must follow through on its commitment to ban flavors that entice our youth.”

More than 2,000 people nationwide, including 114 in Utah, have developed a mysterious respiratory ailment linked to vaping that begins with flu-like symptoms. The vast majority appear to be connected to THC cartridges, according to the Utah Department of Health.

Noting reports that some 5 million high-school age youth are now addicted to nicotine from vaping, Romney expressed frustration that two months after President Trump said he would ban flavored e-cigarettes, no action has been taken.

“While we’ve been waiting, 35 more people have died from lung injury,” he said.

Reports emerged this week that while the president was on the brink of finalizing a ban two weeks ago, he backed off out of fear of alienating voters in some states.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the sudden change shows the president is “more swayed by the tobacco industry and politics than by children’s health.”

Romney also blamed the inaction on intense lobbying, saying that “politics and political donations ... have an enormous impact on the decisions that are sometimes made in Washington.”

Trump is scheduled to meet with vaping-industry and medical officials Friday about the proposed ban on flavored e-cigarettes. “The policy making process is not stalled — it continues to move forward,” the White House said in a statement.

While political contributions wouldn’t come to the FDA or its commissioner directly, “they will come to people who will be telling you what to do,” Romney said. “There will be a very strong lobbying effort on the part of tobacco producers, tobacco companies, vaping shop owners, vaping shop employees, a lot of jobs on the line. There will be enormous political pressure.”

Hahn responded that as a physician he took a pledge years ago to “put the patient first. Senator, I take that pledge very seriously.”

But Hahn repeatedly sidestepped Romney’s direct questioning about his willingness to ban flavored e-cigarettes.

“I can’t imagine a reason for holding off on immediately banning these kinds of flavors. Do you see a reason for holding off on that?” Romney said.

Hahn said he was “completely alarmed” by the health data coming out on vaping but would not commit to a ban.

“I can tell you this for sure. I will use science and data if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed."