Nationwide vaping death toll rises, Congress grills FDA for not regulating the e-cigarette industry sooner

The nationwide death toll due to vaping-related illnesses rose to 11 Wednesday on the same day lawmakers in Congress railed against the Food and Drug Administration for its handling of the regulation of the e-cigarette industry.

The Georgia Department of Public Health announced Wednesday the state’s first death related to vaping-related lung disease. The 35-year-old man had a history of heavy nicotine vaping, but no history of vaping THC, the state agency said. The Florida Department of Health updated its report Tuesday of lung injuries associated with e-cigarette use to include one death.

CALIFORNIA VAPING DEATHS, ILLNESSES PROMPT STERN WARNING FROM OFFICIALS: PUT E-CIGARETTES DOWN

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week 530 confirmed and probable cases have been reported in 38 states and one U.S. territory.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the outbreak of vaping related illneses Wednesday, allowing Democratic lawmakers to question the acting commissioner of the FDA, Ned Sharpless, on the agency’s decision in 2017 to push back an FDA review of the vaping industry. Under the previous commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the FDA moved the deadline to begin a review of the industry to 2022 instead of the initial 2018 start date, CNBC reported. Public health groups sued and a U.S. district court ordered the FDA to begin the review next year.

“I firmly believe that many aspects of the youth vaping epidemic could have been addressed if the FDA had moved forward with reviewing all e-cigarettes on the market when it first had the chance two years ago” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., the committee chairman, said, according to CNBC.

Juul Labs Inc.’s Chief Operating Officer also resigned this week. The top-of-the-market e-cigarette maker faces a slew of lawsuits that claim the company targeted young people with its flavored nicotine products.

The new CEO, K.C. Crosthwaite, was an executive at Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes that paid $13 billion for a 35% stake in Juul in December. Crosthwaite said in a statement that Juul has long focused on providing adult smokers with alternatives but recognized that there's "unacceptable levels of youth usage and eroding public confidence in our industry."

The FDA announced last week that along with the CDC the agency is conducting a criminal investigation into the nationwide epidemic. Most but not all patients have reported a history of using e-cigarette products containing THC, a psychoactive compound found in cannabis, according to the CDC. No one manufacturer or ingredient has been linked to all cases of vaping related respiratory illness.

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP 

Michigan, New York and Rhode Island banned vaping flavors this month, while Massachusetts said it will stop sales of all vaping products for four months, the first such step in the country. President Donald Trump said last week that the federal government will act to ban thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes across the country.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.