The Trump administration’s delay in issuing new vaping curbs became a central topic in the Senate confirmation hearing of Stephen Hahn to be the next head of the Food and Drug Administration.

Hahn, a longtime oncologist, is facing a contentious hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. As FDA commissioner, he would lead an agency facing a number of public-health challenges, including cancer-causing ingredients found in generic pills.

But the debate over how to handle teenage vaping took center stage at his confirmation hearing on Wednesday. Under pressure from the e-cigarette industry and political advisers who say regulations may hurt his re-election bid, President Donald Trump is reconsidering the sweeping flavor restrictions he promised in September.

Instead, the White House has indicated that it could adopt a more lenient policy in response to arguments that stiff regulations could wipe out thousands of jobs and send adult users back to combustible cigarettes. Indeed, rules that would have banned flavored e-cigarettes are no longer on a Department of Health & Human Services list for the coming year, according to the agenda released Wednesday.

“We are in the middle of a public health crisis,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and the top Democrat on the committee, told Hahn. “Millions of children are becoming addicted to tobacco products.”

Trump’s delay in regulating e-cigarettes “was an absolute disaster,” and the number of middle- and high-school students vaping has doubled and tripled in just the past two years, she said.


“He has shown he is more swayed by the tobacco industry and politics than by our children’s health. We need an FDA commissioner who will push back hard so children’s health comes first.”

Hahn responded by saying that years ago he took a pledge to uphold the ethics of medical practice.

“I take that pledge very seriously,” he told lawmakers. “Patients need to come first and the decisions that we make need to be guided by science and data congruent with the law.”

Later, he told Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, that he was alarmed by the data on children using flavored vape products.

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

He said he looks forward to reviewing the science and data on teenage vaping, though he made no policy commitments.


A final version of the administration’s revised plan was ready weeks ago, Bloomberg reported last week, while bipartisan frustrations have grown amid mounting pressure from the industry and and conservative activists.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who would be Hahn’s boss, said last week that the Trump administration was trying to strike an “appropriate public health balance.”

Though the regulation was cleared by the Office of Management and Budget on Nov. 4, Trump decided to delay its release and consider changes to exempt vape shops and allow some flavors to remain on the market. A decision not to include it on the agenda released Wednesday doesn’t mean the administration couldn’t later revive the proposed regulations, but it means that banning flavors is not on the White House list of priorities for next year.

Hahn, 59, would succeed Scott Gottlieb, who resigned as FDA commissioner in April. Ned Sharpless, the former director of the National Cancer Institute, served as acting commissioner in the interim.

Hahn treated cancer patients immediately upon gaining his medical license, working as a radiation oncologist in Santa Rosa, California, and his last position before being nominated to head the FDA was serving as the chief medical executive at MD Anderson at the University of Texas in Houston, one of the nation’s premier cancer centers.

While at MD Anderson, he helped lead a group working to raise the age to 21 for the purchase of tobacco and e-cigarettes.

The FDA has largely operated outside the polarized political climate that’s subsumed Washington since Trump took office, even as streamlined operations and reduced regulations has accelerated the approval of new medicines for Americans. Now the conflict between public health and economic success in the vaping industry has the potential to pull the agency into limelight.

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