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HHS Secretary Statement on Vaping

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DHHS Sec. Sylvia Burwell commits public health malpractice, threatens lives of vapers and smokers, conflates lifesaving vapor products with lethal cigarettes, misrepresents scientific evidence, announces cigarette protecting vapor deeming ban.

Tobacco Press Conference

Sylvia Mathews Burwell Health and Human Services  Secretary
May 5, 2016
Washington, DC

This is a public health effort we started more than 50 years ago. Now it’s time to take the next step forward.



More than 50 years ago, President John F. Kennedy’s Surgeon General Luther Terry first warned Americans about the dire consequences of smoking.

Since then, government, health professionals, nonprofits, and business leaders have come together to break our nation’s addiction to tobacco.

This work has been bipartisan, championed by HHS Secretaries and Surgeons General of both parties.

I know this firsthand. In 1985, when I was a summer intern working for my Congressman, Nick Joe Rahall, I went to an intern event where C. Everett Koop spoke. He had a simple message: “One day, we will have a smoke-free America.” I was taken by the concept, because at that point in time it seemed so foreign.

Today, we have drastically reduced smoking rates and saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

But even with our progress, tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, taking almost half a million lives every year.

And while families bear the burden of sickness and death, the cost to our nation’s budget is heavy as well. Treating tobacco-related illnesses costs us more than $170 billion annually.

As far as we’ve come since C. Everett Koop opened my eyes to the possibilities of a smoke-free America, I know that there is more we can do.

And that’s why I’m excited to be here today, to be a part of our next step as we make this goal a reality.

Targeting Youth

We have more to do to help protect Americans from this dangerous addiction, and that is especially true for our youth.

As cigarette smoking among those under 18 has fallen, the use of other nicotine products, and especially e-cigarettes, has taken a drastic leap.

Between 2011 and 2015, the percentage of high school students who smoked e-cigarettes has skyrocketed over 900 percent.

Meanwhile, hookah usage has risen significantly among young people, and cigar smoking continues to be a problem among high schoolers.

Together, that means millions of kids are being introduced to nicotine every year—a new generation hooked on a highly addictive chemical.

Cigarette smokers are warned about their health risks. Those under 18 cannot purchase them.

Kid-friendly flavors in cigarettes are banned, and we’ve taken precautions to limit companies from marketing to children.

Other tobacco products like e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco or cigars on the other hand, have no federal age restrictions. In some states, there is no rule preventing teenagers and even children from walking into a store, or going online, and purchasing them. What we know is that the absence of a federal restriction means that enforcement is uneven and, in some cases, nonexistent.

We cannot let the enormous progress we’ve made toward a tobacco-free generation be undermined by products that impact our health and our economy in this way.


In 2009, a bipartisan Congressional act entrusted FDA to regulate the manufacturing, distribution and marketing of tobacco products in order to protect public health.

With that authority, today we are taking significant steps to do just that.

We are protecting our nation’s children and teenagers and helping adults get the information they need to make informed decisions about tobacco and nicotine use. Under this rule, retailers will no longer be allowed to sell e-cigarettes, cigars, or other covered tobacco products to anyone under age 18 and all sales to those 26 and under will require a photo ID.

Moving forward, this rule will also allow FDA to take additional steps to protect youth.

That includes plans to issue a separate proposed rule to extend the existing flavor ban on cigarettes to cover cigars.

We also intend to issue future rules that require nicotine exposure warnings and child-resistant packaging for products with e-liquids.

In order to stay on the market, manufacturers of newly regulated products will be required to show just what is in these products and whether they are suitable for the marketplace.

That requirement includes both flavored and unflavored products, but excludes those on the market as of February 15, 2007.

And going forward, FDA will be able to review new tobacco products before they hit the shelves.


We know there will be critics of this decision.

There will be those who are unhappy about the steps we are taking to include premium cigars.

All cigars, however, pose serious negative health risks, including cancer, heart disease, and chronic pulmonary disease. They contain harmful and potentially harmful ingredients and nicotine, an addictive chemical.

The unregulated process by which cigars can reach consumers, especially our youth, undermines the 50 years of progress we have made in curbing the use of tobacco.

There may also be concerns about small businesses being impacted by this rule.

We understand the concerns small businesses will have, and that is why FDA is providing them with the extra time and assistance they need to comply.

And some will argue that oversight of e-cigarettes may hinder cessation efforts.

We don’t have evidence that supports this, though we’re working to learn more. In the meantime, there are many other proven cessation tools available.

These regulations are common sense.

People who buy e-cigarettes and other tobacco products deserve to have the facts so they can make informed purchases. And, as a nation, we have agreed for many years that nicotine doesn’t belong in the hands of children.


Every death caused by tobacco is preventable.

Every mother lost, every brother, grandfather and friend who is no longer with us is a tragedy that didn’t have to be.

Progress has been made but the context has changed, so we need to act. We owe it to ourselves to do better.

We can do better, and breaking the cycle of addiction that starts so young for so many is an important step.

This is a public health effort we started more than 50 years ago. Now it’s time to take the next step forward.

And now, I’ll turn it over to Rob [Califf].

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