Senate confirms new FDA Chief Hahn despite unclear views on the future of vaping
By a vote of 72 – 18, Dr. Stephen Hahn is now confirmed as the new Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) despite being rather vague in his answering of questions related to vaping. Currently employed by the University of Texas as a chief medical executive specializing in oncology, Hahn was asked repeated by both democrat and republican committee members whether he supports a federal ban on flavored vapor products. The Trump nominee repeatedly sidestepped by saying he does not want to “prejudge” any decisions without first knowing all the facts.
He would admit, however, that “aggressive actions” should be taken but fell short of announcing what specifically those actions should be. He also promised to follow the “science and the evidence,” which is another argument that can be easily manipulated depending on which research and studies that Hahn deems relevant.
Both republicans and democrats ask hard questions about vaping
When pressed by Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) for a more precise response, Dr. Hahn would only say, “I can tell you this, for sure, sir, I will use science and data to guide the decisions if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, and I won’t back away from that.”
Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) immediately shot back. “Is failing to implement a flavor ban, and ignoring the millions of children who are getting addicted to e-cigarettes consistent with your focus on science and data?” She, of course, was referring to President Trump’s apparent backpedaling on a September 11 promise to ban flavored vapes nationwide.
When Hahn refused to provide a more detailed response, promising instead to talk with the Trump Administration before making taking any decisive actions, Senator Murray seemed unpersuaded by his noncommittal response. She would also vote against his approval during the televised confirmation hearings held by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
New FDA Chief Hahn is replacing Acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless who temporarily took over the post after the departure of Dr. Scott Gottlieb earlier in the year. Gottlieb has been one of the vaping industry’s harshest critics and is often credited with starting the anti-vaping hysteria by coining the phrase “teen vaping epidemic.”
However, as President Trump was deciding whether to implement a federal flavor ban in the early fall of 2019, Gottlieb seemed to chance his stance slightly. In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box in late November, Gottlieb expressed his opinion that the FDA should “carve around the vape shops” when considering an future restrictions, regulations, or bans on the sales of flavored e-liquids.
“The concern is the vape shops, which is where the concern is resting right now, and the idea that if you put in a universal flavor ban, you’ll basically shut down these adult-only vape shops. I think there’s a way to carve around the vape shops and still achieve a lot from a public health standpoint. And you can even make a public health argument why you might exempt the vape shops for the time being.”
While Dr. Hahn will be the new head at the FDA, he will likely consult with Dr. Gottlieb for advice and counsel, especially during the early days of his tenure. Navigating the many obstacles of Washington, DC, is always a challenge for newly appointed members of a presidential administration. If the senate confirmation hearings are any indication, vaping is still going to be a huge issue well into 2020 and beyond.
(Image courtesy of YouTube)