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Vaping Crisis Could Have Been Prevented: Industry Lobbying, Anti-Regulatory Analysis Blocked FDA Action

Statement of Amit Narang, Regulatory Policy Advocate, Public Citizen

Note: Late Monday, the Los Angeles Times reported that top Obama administration officials rejected a vaping ban as a result of intense tobacco and e-cigarette industry lobbying and a cost-benefit analysis suggesting that the costs of a ban vape to shops outweighed the potential health benefits of the ban.

At least 12 are dead and more than 800 are in the hospital sick – most of them just kids. These are the human costs of not regulating and banning flavored e-cigarettes, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was blocked from doing. These lives that didn’t matter as much to corporate-captured regulators as keeping vape shops and e-cigarettes profitable.

This sprawling public health crisis is precisely what happens when cost-benefit analysis drives government decisions on health, safety and environmental protections. Cost-benefit analysis is a fundamentally flawed metric that makes it harder for agencies to do their jobs and prevent crises like this before they happen.

Overreliance on cost-benefit analysis is one of many problems at the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) that got worse as a result of corporate capture during the previous administration and have continued to get worse under President Donald Trump. Now the public is paying the price. OIRA is responsible for making the vaping crisis worse and is responsible for the illnesses and deaths that could have been prevented had the agency allowed public health experts at the FDA to regulate vaping as Congress intended.

We need a regulatory system the protects the public – especially children – before people get sick and start dying. That’s why OIRA needs dramatic and immediate reforms to reduce corporate influence in the rulemaking process and increase transparency in the agency’s decisions regarding how, when and why the agency blocks, delays and weakens regulations that protect health, safety and our environment.

Public Citizen supports U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act, introduced in the last congress, which include reforms that would bring much needed accountability and transparency to OIRA. There’s no doubt that if those reforms had been in place, they would have saved lives.