A vaping industry group has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for violating Senate rules by attempting to improperly influence Food and Drug Administration scientific decisions about vaping products.
On Oct. 14, the American Vapor Manufacturers Association (AVM) delivered a letter to the chair and vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics, alleging that Durbin has pressured the FDA to ban all vaping products, even though he is aware the agency has a statutory mandate to individually review premarket tobacco applications (PMTAs) submitted for each product.
Citing Durbin’s history of hounding the FDA to ban and restrict vaping products in letters to the agency, Senate floor speeches, press releases, and private meetings, AVM says it believes the senator has attempted “to interfere with and influence the outcome of an ongoing executive branch agency review process in violation of Senate Ethics rules.”
In June, the FDA issued a rushed marketing denial order (MDO) to manufacturer Juul Labs after Durbin repeatedly pressured FDA Commissioner Robert Califf to act against the company. The agency’s stated rationale for the denial broke down immediately, and the embarrassed regulator quickly backed down and issued a stay of its own order.
“Senator Durbin’s arrogant bullying has now become a grave threat to public health,” AVM President Amanda Wheeler said in a press release. “At a time when trust in public health authorities is already shaky, Durbin’s shameful campaign to hijack federal policy on this crucial health issue should come to an immediate end.”
The letter to the Senate committee marks the second time this year that AVM has asked a government body to investigate corruption of the FDA premarket review process. In July, the trade group asked the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Inspector General to investigate whether “improper political pressure” from Sen. Durbin and anti-vaping groups affected the FDA’s scientific procedures.
The ethics committee investigates allegations of misconduct in the upper house of Congress, although it has rarely acted to censure or punish members. Government watchdog group Issue One once described the committee as “the embodiment of a black hole lacking a strong, public record of ensuring a highly ethical culture in the chamber it oversees.”
The committee is especially unlikely to act against Durbin, who as Senate Majority Whip is the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Democratic-led body. Even if Republicans take over the Senate next year, the ethics committee is unlikely to seriously investigate Durbin or cite him for misconduct.
Image courtesy Sen. Durbin’s office