Why Americans can't get the same effective sunscreen protection Europeans can

Power Players

Power Players

As Americans start heading to the beach for their summer vacations, they may be at a disadvantage when it comes to sunscreen. Europeans and South Americans have been able to buy a wider variety, and some say, more effective sunscreens for nearly a decade.

In a recent interview at the Ivy restaurant in New York City, ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser pressed Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg on why ingredients proven effective against UVA rays in Europe have yet to be approved by the agency.

“The honest answer is that we could and should move faster, but we have so many responsibilities and people are stretched very thin,” Hamburg told “Power Players.” “We have dedicated a team of people, a small team...to really work on moving this forward.”

In fact, the FDA has not added an approved sunscreen ingredient since 1999.

“We can and will do better,” Hamburg said. “It can be frustrating when you want to move quickly and can be cumbersome in a fast-changing world.”

The FDA is also under pressure to address new products coming out of the tobacco industry. While smoking rates have dropped in recent years, the use of “e-cigarettes” is on the rise, causing concern among some public health advocates who worry users may be trading one health concern for another.

Hamburg affirms that it’s too early to know whether e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco. “I don't think we really know enough about e-cigarettes to really put in place a public health regulatory framework for them at this time,” she said.

Smoking e-cigarettes is rapidly becoming more popular among children. The Centers for Disease Control reports that the percentage of middle and high school students who use them doubled from 2011 to 2012, from 4.7% to 10%, all while the FDA has yet to formalize regulations, prompting critics to call for quicker action.

“I wish we could move faster too, but we have to do this in a step-wise way,” Hamburg explained. “We have to first get the authority to regulate these products and then we can take specific actions around things like flavoring and advertising.”

Smoking critics also contend that some e-cigarette advertisements target young people. Hamburg agreed it's a concern.

“I think one of the worries that many people have is that the advertising going on around e-cigarettes is reminiscent of what happened in the early days of tobacco and cigarette use, and we know how that affected the uptake of cigarette smoking by young people, how it glamorized smoking,” Hamburg said.

“And now we're seeing a resurgence of images of young people and celebrities and others smoking e-cigarettes,” she later added.

For more of the interview with Hamburg, including what new information might be showing up on your next restaurant menu, check out this episode of “Power Players.”

ABC News’ Gitika Kaul, Ali Dukakis, Richard Coolidge, Tom Thornton, Akram Abi Hanna and Gil Ben Ze’ev contributed to this episode.