WATCH: Sen. Ossoff Presses for Stronger Enforcement Against Illegal E-Cigarettes Being Sold to Children

Washington D.C. — U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff is pressing for stronger enforcement against illegal e-cigarettes being sold to children across Georgia, pointing to several cases of kids being exposed to products laced with fentanyl and other dangerous drugs.

Today, in a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Sen. Ossoff highlighted the stories of a child in Lee County who was hospitalized after using a vape reportedly laced with THC and fentanyl and a 13-year-old in Whitfield County who suffered a stroke and paralysis after reportedly using a brightly colored “Blueberry Raspberry” vape laced with THC and phencyclidine (PCP).

Sen. Ossoff asked what the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are doing to strengthen enforcement and prevent the sale of illegal e-cigarettes and how the agencies can prioritize enforcement against products that are contaminated or that contain other deadly and illegal drugs.

According to a 2019 report by the FDA, over 5 million, or 28 percent, of high school students vaped using a nicotine product in the previous 30 days.

Click here to watch Sen. Ossoff’s line of questioning.

Please find a transcript of Sen. Ossoff’s line of questioning below:

SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, to our witnesses. Mr. Rao, Dr. King, no flavored vape or e-cigarette products are currently FDA approved. Is that correct?”

MR. RAO: “That’s correct. Tobacco is a flavor, so, no non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes have been authorized.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “No non-tobacco flavored e-cigarettes, therefore, other flavors have been authorized. And under the TCA, is it correct, Mr. Rao, that they are therefore not legal to sell in the United States?”

MR. RAO: “That’s correct.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “And yet they’re widely sold in the United States?”

MR. RAO: “That’s correct.”


MR. RAO: “Senator, as we have discussed, it’s a complex issue in terms of the legal landscape. We are taking enforcement efforts on a number of vectors to try to address the problem. Principally, the Department has been engaged in defense of the FDA’s marketing denial orders in district courts and courts of appeal across the country. That has been more than 80 cases to date, and we’ve prevailed in a dozen of those.

“In addition, we are working with the FDA and the U.S. Marshals Services on domestic seizures. There was a seizure earlier this year in Southern California in which 45,000 illegal cigarettes were seized. That’s part of what we’re doing to try to combat this problem.

“We recognize that there’s more that can be done. We have brought a number of civil injunction actions as well, but we, as part of this task force that has been previously mentioned, we are looking to engage with law enforcement partners across the executive branch to do more in this area.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you, Mr. Rao. So, none of the non-tobacco flavors — the flavors that are clearly, in my view, meant to appeal to kids are FDA approved — none of them are legal to sell in the United States — flavored products are still widespread in our communities.

“In Georgia, a 2019 study found that 1 in 5 high school students had vaped, often drawn in by flavors and bright packaging, and because the products that some students are accessing are unregulated and illegal, they’re sometimes laced with other drugs or contaminants.

“Last March, in Lee County in Southwest Georgia, a student was hospitalized after using a vape reportedly laced with THC and fentanyl. And a 13-year-old in Whitfield County, Georgia, suffered a stroke and paralysis after reportedly using a brightly colored, ‘Blueberry Raspberry’ vape. The toxicology report was positive for THC and PCP.

“How will the department prioritize enforcement aimed specifically at those products that are contaminated or which contain other deadly and illegal drugs?”

MR. RAO: “Senator, it’s the highest priority for the department. We share your concerns regarding the health risks, with respect to vaping products, that may contain additional dangerous products, products, again, that often originate in China.

“The department has brought criminal actions against individuals involved in the importation of counterfeit vaping related items, and we would look forward again to working with the task force to bring more such actions.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “Mr. Rao, what’s your candid message for Georgia families right now who fear that their middle school or high school student may unintentionally and inadvertently vape and consume something like fentanyl or PCP?”

MR. RAO: “I want to send the message that the Executive Branch is taking a very aggressive approach to trying to combat this problem, using all available tools and working closely with law enforcement partners to consider all potential avenues for enforcement against this threat.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “What does it look like to work with, for example, local law enforcement agencies in Georgia to make sure that there’s not fentanyl in e-cigarettes and vape products that are being marketed to children?”

MR. RAO: “Certainly, the department and other law enforcement partners would appreciate the opportunity to engage with local law enforcement, which has…”

SEN. OSSOFF: “Are you doing it yet?”

MR. RAO: “It’s certainly something that our law enforcement partners are constantly considering, in terms of a potential option, and are always open…”

SEN. OSSOFF: “Considering, but so – it’s not a trick question, just so I understand, so that I can be helpful in connecting your team with the right local law enforcement agencies in Georgia. Are you currently working directly with local law enforcement agencies to identify, for example, fentanyl-laced vape pens in Georgia or elsewhere in the country? Is that something that my office can help facilitate, that liaison between you and local law enforcement in Georgia?”

MR. RAO: “Yeah, it’s certainly something that we would welcome facilitation on. I want to be sure that I’m providing correct information and connecting you with the right people. Again, you know, I know our law enforcement partners constantly work with local law enforcement in all of their matters and would welcome engagement from law enforcement partners in Georgia to combat this issue.”

SEN. OSSOFF: “Thank you Mr. Rao. Thank you, Dr King.”

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