Lawmakers push to roll back Obama-era e-cigarette regulations

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Rep. Duncan Hunter, a long-time vaping proponent, introduced a bill Thursday aimed at loosening regulations for e-cigarette products that were tightened under the Obama administration.

The bill would reverse an Obama-era rule that categorized e-cigarettes as a tobacco product under the purview of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hunter’s bill would exempt vaping devices from many of the rules placed on traditional tobacco products, including a two-year review process requiring FDA sign-off before new products hit the shelves.

E-cigarette makers argue the process is too expensive and would deter smokers from trying and using e-cigarettes.

E-cigarettes heat nicotine-laced liquid into vapor but do not contain actual tobacco. Proponents claim they are a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

“This bill is the way forward for smokers who want to quit smoking and vapers who enjoy vaping,” Hunter, R-Calif., said in a written statement. “No less important, this bill will set the vaping industry on a solid path for decades to come and require consideration of the harm reduction benefits associated with vaping.”

The e-cigarette industry has seen an explosion of growth in recent years. There are now more than 250 different e-cigarette brands on the market and the industry itself has morphed into a multi-billion dollar one.

This isn’t the first time Hunter has stepped into the e-cigarette debate.

Earlier this month, the California Republican sent a letter to the U.S. Navy asking them to reconsider a suspension of vaping and e-cigarettes. On April 14, the Navy announced its ban which goes into effect on May 14.

Hunter has allies in the push for looser regulations on vaping devices.

Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Stanford Bishop, D-Ga., introduced a proposal that exempts thousands of vaping devices currently on the market from FDA approval. According to Reuters, the plan is to attach the proposal as a rider to a spending package to keep the government open.

All of this comes as Congress gets ready to confirm President Trump's nominee Dr. Scott Gottlieb to head the FDA. But there’s controversy there as well.

From March 2015 to May 2016, Gottlieb was a director at Kure Corp, a North Carolina-based firm that distributes vaping pens and e-juices in vaporiums – a coffee house-type setting for vaping. As of March 2017, he still had a financial interest in the company though he promised to sell his stake if confirmed.