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Burgess Opening Statement at Energy & Commerce Health Subcommittee Hearing to Address the National Youth Tobacco Epidemic
Posted by on October 16, 2019 | comments
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Washington, D.C. — Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), Republican Leader of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health, gave the below opening remarks at today’s hearing.

Dr. Burgess’ Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

“Thank you, Madame Chair and to our witnesses for being here today. There have been over 1,000 confirmed and probable cases of lung injury reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reaching almost every state and even a U.S. territory. Approximately 80 percent of these cases involve individuals under 35 years of age. Vaping and e-cigarettes acutely affect the youth population in the United States, which is why there has been such great national attention by the news media and by Congress.

The CDC continues to work closely with state and local authorities to gather and analyze information from across the country. We must continue investigating this very concerning outbreak among our nation’s youth.

Both the Trump Administration and Congress have taken steps to try to further understand and combat this lung injury outbreak. While action is needed, we must first understand the issue at hand so that we can devise the best solution. With an issue of public health at stake, it is critical that Congress work with agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC, to gather as much information as possible and act within appropriate authorities to protect the public.

When this investigation began, the CDC issued a warning that consumers should avoid using any and all vaping products, including nicotine, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), and hybrid products. Since the investigation has progressed, the CDC has refined their warning to avoid using these products, particularly those containing THC.

Most affected patients reported a history of using THC-containing products, confirming the findings that THC has played a role in the outbreak. As more information becomes known and understood about e-cigarettes, we should ensure our legislative solutions tackle the underlying causes of this issue.

Throughout this conversation, we should also keep in mind that the nicotine in e-cigarettes is still addictive. However, e-cigarettes do provide an alternative to traditional cigarettes for adult smokers who are trying to quit.

Traditional cigarettes remain the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., claiming an estimated 480,000 lives or more each year. This is a personal issue for me, as I lost both of my parents to tobacco-related illness.

According to the CDC, an estimated 34 million adults in the United States currently smoke cigarettes and more than 16 million Americans live with a smoking-related disease.

While I am certainly concerned about the affect of e-cigarettes on our youth, we do need to remember that there is a large adult population with a whole host of health problems related to tobacco.

This legislative hearing is about Mr. Pallone’s bill, H.R. 2339. This bill includes some policies similar to President Trump’s Executive Order banning flavored e-cigarettes and to Senator McConnell’s Tobacco-Free Youth Act (S. 1541) that raises the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to 21-years-old.

While H.R. 2339 overlaps with some good policy coming from the Administration and the Senate, there are concerning provisions that could hinder this bill becoming law.

There is potential infringement on the First Amendment by requiring graphic health warnings on cigarette labels and advertising. There are other ways to educate individuals, particularly the youth population, of the harmful effects of smoking and reduce youth smoking rates without being detrimental to the freedom of speech. For example, Mr. McConnell’s Tobacco-Free Youth Act, which has bipartisan support and has been included in bipartisan HELP drug cost package (S. 1895), is a bill that directly addresses youth smoking by raising the age to purchase without problematic and overreaching provisions. 

A bill such as H.R. 2339 includes some policies that may be helpful in combating the youth tobacco rates in the U.S.; however, there are problematic provisions and a lack of a full understanding of the causes of this lung injury epidemic. Reducing youth tobacco rates is essential to a healthy America, and I am glad we are discussing this issue today.

Again, I would like to thank all our witnesses for being part of this important conversation today. I yield back.”

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