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(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. Senate on Thursday held the first congressional hearing focusing on the Food and Drug Administration's proposal to regulate electronic cigarettes.
The rising popularity of the tobacco product has prompted review and regulatory action, particularly when it comes to younger consumers.
Companies say the vapor cigarettes that use liquid nicotine can be a safer alternative to tobacco for regular smokers. The FDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, however, contend that those organizations are using candy flavors to appeal to younger crowds.
By this summer, the FDA hopes to pass federal regulation banning e-cigarette sales to minors. Nearly 1.8 million students in sixth through twelfth grade reported trying an e-cigarette in 2012, according to Tim McAfee, CDC Director of the Office of Smoking and Health.
Testifying at Thursday's hearing, he said the government needs to take swift action.
"FDA regulation alone is insufficient and this process will take time," McAfee said. "That's why states and cities across the country are folding the cigarettes into clean air policies and enacting bans on e-cigarette sales to minors."
Other supporters of tobacco control say there's not enough concrete information on the electronic devices.
"Right now we have far more questions than answers about the safety of the product, about what's in the product, about what's in the vapor," said Mitch Zeller, Director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA.
Opponents to regulation, like North Carolina's Republican Sen. Richard Burr, believe agencies may end up making it more difficult for smokers to quit. E-cigarettes have often been touted as a method to help people kick their tobacco habit.
"Let's not condemn where the technology has gone before we've ever had an opportunity to see what effect this can have on pulling people off of combustible tobacco products," Burr said.
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