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On May 2, 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed its brief in response to Appellants Nicopure and Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition’s appeal in the lawsuit challenging aspects of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) and the Deeming Rule now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. FDA’s brief was supported by amici briefs filed by several NGOs and public health groups (who recently dropped their motion to intervene as actual parties to the appeal). Appellants filed their reply brief on May 16, 2018. (Links to all the appeal briefs are below.)

Issues on Appeal

In their opening brief, which was supported by a number of amici (Washington Legal Foundation, NJOY, CASAA, the State of Iowa, and Clive Bates et al.), appellants argue that (1) FDA was obligated to consider a less burdensome Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) process for vapor products while still protecting the public health, (2) the Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) provision of the TCA as it is being applied to vapor products violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and (3) the ban on free samples of vapor products also violates the First Amendment.  We summarize FDA’s response to the appeal, and appellants counter-arguments below.

The Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA)

With respect to the PMTA, FDA predictably argues that, once deemed, vapor products are tobacco products subject to all the requirements in the TCA, including premarket review. According to the agency, FDA has no choice but to apply the statutory requirements established by Congress, and that the decision not to tailor such requirements for vapor products was not arbitrary and capricious. Appellants, however, counter that they are not actually seeking a complete exemption from the PMTA or the “population effects” (public health) standard, but rather are only arguing FDA either was required to, or arbitrarily and capriciously failed to, tailor how the vapor industry demonstrates compliance with this standard. Such tailoring is necessary because requiring randomized, controlled trials or long-term epidemiological studies for each e-liquid and device would, by FDA’s own admission, eliminate up to 97% of manufacturers and the vast majority of products on the market – which flies in the face of the TCA’s clear intent to ensure that adults continue to have access to less harmful tobacco products.

While FDA maintains it will consider this option on a case-by-case basis, that is simply not enough when entire categories of vapor products could be effectively banned before PMTAs are even submitted. FDA must allow vapor companies on an industry-wide basis to file PMTAs that rely on information and data alternatives to satisfy the public health standard without having to conduct prohibitively expensive, long-term studies for each product before submitting an application. At a minimum, it was arbitrary and capricious for FDA not to adopt this option or adequately consider it during the rulemaking.

Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) Claims

FDA argues that the requirement that the agency conduct a “premarket review” of modified risk tobacco products is not a regulation of commercial speech subject to First Amendment protection (just like FDA’s review of new drug products) and that, even if it were, the requirement is narrowly tailored to further the government’s substantial interest, as required to meet the “intermediate scrutiny” standard for government limitations on commercial speech. FDA points to Congress’s extensive findings concerning Big Tobacco’s long history of marketing light, mild and low tar cigarettes as safer than regular cigarettes, and the resulting public health consequences.

But appellants argue that modified risk designation of tobacco products does not rely on a manufacturer’s intent (unlike new drugs), and so MRTP claims are protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, FDA cites nothing in either the TCA or the administrative record showing that the agency gave any consideration, as the Administrative Procedure Act requires, to how plainly truthful claims about vapor products (e.g., “no tar,” “no combustible smoke,” “no ash,” “no diacetyl”), which are designed to help smokers move away from cigarettes, might actually be interpreted by consumers. Insisting that, because of Big Tobacco’s past indiscretions, it is the vapor industry’s duty – not the government’s – to demonstrate in the first instance that entirely truthful statements are not potentially misleading puts the cart-before-the-horse.

Free Sample Ban

FDA argues that the ban on the distribution of free vapor product samples (1) does not implicate the First Amendment because it is effectively a price regulation focused on conduct that regulates economic activity rather than expression and that, (2) even if the prohibition were viewed as a speech restriction, it would withstand review under the intermediate scrutiny standard because it is narrowly tailored to further the government’s substantial interest in preventing youth access to tobacco products.

But according to the Appellants, FDA’s position completely ignores the underlying purpose of the commercial speech doctrine, i.e., the free flow of commercial information through advertising, which warrants First Amendment protection so consumers can make intelligent and well-informed purchasing decisions. As Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA) made clear in its amicus brief in support of the appellants, a substantial amount of information is furnished through free samples regarding e-liquid flavors and device performance that adult consumers require. Record evidence shows that when deciding whether to switch from significantly more harmful cigarettes, consumers must be able to understand how vapor products work, taste various flavors, and experience the sensation and performance levels of different devices. Samples are needed to convey this information – it is not enough for sellers to simply make representations through other channels, such as written materials or retailer demonstrations.

Moreover, requiring companies to charge a fee to sample products will limit the amount of information conveyed through sampling, whether because consumers are price sensitive, reluctant to spend money on an unfamiliar or novel product, or otherwise. Vapers engage in a routine and ongoing sampling process of multiple products as they switch from cigarettes. The act of constantly paying for each sample tested presents an unnecessary hurdle.

FDA also never acknowledges the Supreme Court’s test for determining whether the ability to distribute free samples possesses sufficient communicative elements (i.e., an intent to convey a particularized message) to bring the First Amendment into play. Rather, FDA asserts that it is only regulating conduct, turning a blind eye to the extensive record evidence that manufacturers and retailers not only offer free samples with the specific intent to convey important information to consumers, but also that consumers themselves understand testing free samples will help them make critical choices in the marketplace affecting their health and well-being.

Finally, FDA points to how cigarette manufacturers in the past failed in their efforts to limit youth access (and would distribute cigarettes at youth-oriented events like concerts), and argues that the exception in the TCA permitting free samples of smokeless tobacco in qualified-adult-only-facilities will not work for vapor products. But nowhere in FDA’s brief or the administrative record, according to appellants, is there any evidence – whether through studies, surveys, anecdotal reports, or otherwise – demonstrating that underage individuals are obtaining free samples of vapor products from venues or events only frequented by adults – e.g., vape shops, trade shows, and adult-oriented concerts. In fact, vast swaths of the vapor marketplace – primarily vape shops – are swept-up in the free sample ban when it is pure speculation and conjecture on FDA’s part to conclude that minors have easy access to samples through such channels. This approach is not permitted under the First Amendment.

Rather than a prophylactic ban on free vapor product samples, there are a number of non-speech related alternatives that FDA could implement to restrict youth access to free tobacco product samples, such as:

  1. prohibiting free samples at youth-oriented events;
  2. limiting free samples to adult-only, age-verified facilities where the sample must be used or consumed on-site so as to prevent removal and any access by the general public;
  3. aggressively enforcing minimum age requirements; and
  4. conducting education campaigns aimed at minors.

In short, FDA’s treatment of free vapor product samples fails to balance the government’s interest in preventing youth access with Congress’s stated goal of allowing adults continued access to less harmful tobacco products.

Links to all briefs:

Oral arguments will likely be scheduled in the Fall of 2018. We will keep you updated on the progress of the appeal.

The Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition and Nicopure Labs are represented in the appeal by Keller and Heckman LLP Partners Eric Gotting and Azim Chowdhury.

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On May 1, 2018 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued 13 warning letters to companies that they claim misleadingly labeled or advertised nicotine-containing e-liquids as kid-friendly food products such as juice boxes, candies, and cookies.  Warning letters were issued to manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of eight products.

All of the warning letters included allegations of misbranding under Sections 903(a)(1) and 903(a)(7) of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) – both of which relate to labeling or advertising that is misleading or untrue in any particular – and Section 5 of the FTC Act for unfair or deceptive advertising.  Both the FDA and FTC alleged violations are based on the risk of confusion, especially by children, between the e-liquid products and foods that are marketed toward, or appealing to, children.

In some of the warning letters issued to distributors and retailers, FDA added allegations that the e-liquids were sold to minors in violation of Section 903(a)(7)(B) of the FDCA.  In one instance, FDA alleged that the company violated Section 201(rr)(4) of the FDCA – which bars the marketing of a tobacco product “in combination with any other article or product regulated” by FDA – because a combination pack of candy and e-liquid were offered together.  The warning letters also highlighted the potential harm that could result if nicotine-containing e-liquids are ingested by children, although the number of poison center calls regarding e-liquids has fallen dramatically since the Children’s Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act went into effect in 2016.  That law requires “liquid nicotine containers” use child-resistant packaging just like prescription drugs, some over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, and other potentially hazardous products found in the home, pursuant to the Poison Packaging Prevention Act.

The issuance of the 13 warning letters comes about a week after FDA Commissioner Gottlieb announced that FDA (1) recently issued warning letters to 40 retailers for underage sales of JUUL products, (2) was in the midst of a “new blitz of retail establishments targeting youth sale violations”, (3) is seeking to end sale of JUUL products to minors, and (4) would examine the youth appeal of JUUL products.  FDA also requested JUUL Labs submit information regarding, among other things, its marketing, research studies, and how certain product features might appeal to different age groups.  While some have argued that the panic over JUUL, which appears to be based on anecdotal evidence and media reports, could actually adversely impact the public health, there is no doubt that FDA is committed to cracking down on underage sales and reducing youth appeal of tobacco products, including vapor products.

In light of the warning letters issued on April 24 and May 1 and the Agency’s interest in tobacco product flavors, it appears that FDA may be setting its sights on the elimination of flavored e-liquids, which have also been shown to help adult smokers transition to less harmful vaping alternatives, as part of its effort to curb the use of vapor products by youth. Of note, a recent study evaluating how young people use vapor products in the United Kingdom, where the products are actively promoted by the government as less harmful than cigarettes and as a way to quit smoking, found that most product experimentation does not turn into regular use, and that regular use of vapor products in young people who have never smoked remains very low.

Industry and other stakeholders interested in maintaining the availability in the U.S. of flavored e-liquids have until June 19, 2018 to submit comments to FDA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Daniel Rubenstein

At yesterday’s meeting with the U.S. House Subcommittee on Agriculture and Rural Development to discuss FDA’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb discussed the Agency’s regulation of the tobacco industry and noted, among other things, that when all the requirements for the newly deemed products, including vapor products, went into effect last year, FDA now has authority to inspect and impose GMP standards and enforce age restrictions.  Gottlieb indicated that FDA would be “stepping into this fight in a vigorous way in the coming weeks.”

Being prepared for an FDA inspection is critical to maintaining compliance.  Just a few weeks ago, FDA’s recently-issued Request for Proposal (RFP), Vape Inspection Services (FDA-RFP-18-1190619), was extended on March 22, 2018 to allow for additional time for FDA to receive, review and consider responses from government contractors submitting bids to conduct inspections of establishments engaged in the retail sale of FDA-regulated tobacco products.

The RFP provides valuable insight into the Agency’s current thinking with regard to the scope of inspections that are expected to begin shortly, as mandated by the Tobacco Control Act.

Specifically, the RFP indicates that the contractor(s) shall, in the course of a facility inspection:

  • Complete and provide FDA with a signed Form FDA 482 (“Notice of Inspection”);
  • Complete an inspection form, detailing:
    • Administrative information;
    • The scope of the facility’s business (e.g., manufacturing, retail, import/export of products);
    • A list of potential violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act; and
  • Be prepared to testify on behalf of FDA in any regulatory or judicial proceeding.

The RFP focuses extensively on the type of evidence collection and storage permissible under the Agency’s guidelines – including the collection of photographic and physical evidence.  The RFP further requires that the contractor complete required Agency training regarding the permissibility of collecting reports, data, documents, and photos (including limitations on Confidential Business Information (CBI), sales data, and personnel data).

The RFP describes the scheduling of inspections on a continuing, quarterly basis, in accordance with designated quotas.  The program allocates funding for one full-time program manager, approximately 10 program coordinators, and 20 inspectors (based on 2,080 annual hours per full-time equivalent).

Keller and Heckman continues to monitor developments relating to FDA’s forthcoming inspections of tobacco and vapor manufacturing establishments, and, to help companies prepare, recently launched the Audit and Inspection Program (AIP).  The AIP provides establishments with an opportunity to conduct advance, client-confidential, independent auditing to identify and remedy any deficiencies.  In addition, the AIP provides establishments with training regarding FDA’s inspection authority, the permissibility of Agency collection of business information, and optional environmental and occupational health and safety components.  For additional details on the AIP Program and to register, click here.

On May 2, 2018 (3:00 PM ET), attorneys Azim Chowdhury and Daniel Rubenstein will be participating in a free webinar hosted by the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), “The FDA is Coming – Are You Ready” and will be discussing Keller and Heckman’s AIP and how manufacturers and retailers can prepare for an FDA inspection. Register for the webinar here.

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In FDA’s latest effort to implement its comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation, the Agency published two additional advanced notice of proposed rulemakings (ANPRMs) concerning regulation of premium cigars and tobacco product flavors.  Specifically, on March 21, 2018, the FDA published an ANPRM, “Regulation of Flavors in Tobacco Products,” which solicited comments on, among things, the role of flavors (other than tobacco) (hereinafter, “flavors”) on initiation and patterns of tobacco product use and on transitioning combustible to non-combustible tobacco product use.[1]  The next week, on March 26, 2018, the FDA published another ANPRM, “Regulation of Premium Cigars,” which requested input on the definition and use patterns of premium cigars as well as public health considerations associated with premium cigars.[2]  While these regulatory actions were initially promised in FDA’s July 28, 2017 comprehensive plan for tobacco and nicotine regulation, publication of the ANPRMs in the Federal Register provide an indication of the Agency’s regulatory priorities going forward. [3]

Flavored Tobacco Products ANPRM

In the ANPRM regarding regulation of tobacco product flavors, FDA requests comments on, among other topics, the following:

  • The Role of Flavors (other than tobacco) in Tobacco Products: FDA requested studies or information regarding the role of flavors generally in tobacco products, as well as the appropriateness of extrapolating research from other areas (e.g., consumer products) to the tobacco space.[4]
  • Flavors (other than tobacco) and Initiation and Patterns of Tobacco Product Use, Particularly Among Youth and Young Adults: FDA requested studies or information regarding the role of flavors in: (1) initiation and/or patterns of use of combusted and non-combusted tobacco products among youth and young adults; (2) in non-combusted tobacco products on initiation of tobacco product use or progression to use of other tobacco products among youth and young adults.[5]
  • Flavors (other than tobacco) and cessation, dual use, and relapse among current and former tobacco product users: FDA requested information on the role of flavors in helping adult cigarette smokers reduce cigarette use and/or switch to potentially less harmful tobacco products. Further, FDA requested studies or information concerning the role of flavors in non-combusted tobacco products on the likelihood of: (i) cessation of combusted tobacco product use; (ii) cessation of all tobacco product use; and (iii) uptake of dual use of combusted and non-combusted tobacco products among current and former tobacco product users.”[6]  FDA also requested information on the role of flavors in combusted products on the likelihood of: (1) delayed or impeded cessation among users who would have otherwise quit combusted tobacco product use; or (2) delayed or impeded cessation among users who would have otherwise quit all tobacco product use.  FDA also solicited studies or information regarding the role of flavors in non-combusted tobacco on the likelihood that former combusted tobacco product users relapse.[7]
  • Additional Public Health Considerations: FDA requested studies or information regarding (1) the potential toxicity or adverse health effects to the user or others from any flavors (e.g., flavor additives, compounds or ingredients) in tobacco products; (2) the impact of public health efforts by local jurisdictions, States, and members of the international community to impose restrictions on the manufacture, marketing, sale or distribution of all or a subset of tobacco products with flavors, including but not limited to, cigars, ENDS, menthol cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco products; (3) consumer perceptions of the health risk of tobacco products with flavors when compared to other tobacco products both with and without flavors; (4) consumer perceptions, if any, of the addictiveness of tobacco products with flavors.

In a contemporaneous statement accompanying the ANPRM, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D called upon all stakeholders to “share data, research, and information that can inform our process for examining the role that flavors – including menthol – play in initiation, use and cessation of tobacco products.[1]  Importantly, the FDA Commissioner also requested “personal stories” from individuals that have been aided by flavors in making the transition between combustible tobacco cigarettes and vaping.  As seen in the litigation surrounding the deeming rule, these regulatory comments could be cited in any future litigation regarding either of these issues.

Comments are due on the tobacco product flavors ANPRM by June 19, 2018.

Premium Cigars ANPRM

In the preamble to the ANPRM regarding premium cigars, FDA noted that it received “numerous comments on the deeming proposed rule with respect to premium cigars, both in favor of, and against, regulating these products.”[8]  However, FDA explains that there was a lack of data supporting the opinions expressed in the comments received by the Agency regarding the Deeming Rule.  For that reason, the ANPRM explains that “FDA is seeking comments, evidence, information, data, and analysis that were not submitted in response to the proposed deeming rule” that could inform FDA’s thinking with respect to regulation of premium cigars.[9]

As an example of the type of information that would be responsive to the ANPRM, FDA cites a PATH Study Paper, which analyzed findings from the 2013-2014 Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) Study with a focus on smokers of filtered cigars, cigarillos, and traditional cigars, which were further classified by study authors as either “premium” or “nonpremium.”[10]  That study concluded that “use characteristics, cigar smoking patterns, and dual smoking with cigarettes varied by cigar type.”[11]

Specifically, in the ANPRM, FDA requests comments on, among other topics, the following:

  • Definition of Premium Cigars: Among other things, FDA requested comments from the public concerning the defining characteristics of premium cigars, which may include: size; tobacco filler type; fermentation type; wrapper and binder composition; where the tobacco used for premium cigar filler or wrappers is grown; presence or absence of a filter or mouthpiece; manufacturing and assembly process; rate of production; presence or absence of flavor imparting compounds, flavor additives, or characterizing flavors other than tobacco; presence or absence of any additives other than cigar glue; nicotine content; tar and carbon monoxide delivery amounts; retail price; frequency with which price changes; packaging quantity and size; any action directed to consumers by a retailer or manufacturer.[12]
  • Use Patterns of Premium Cigars: FDA solicited studies or information regarding, among other things, and as compared to other cigars: (1) the potential role of premium cigars on tobacco initiation and progression to use of other tobacco products; (2) behavioral data related to dual use of premium cigars and other tobacco products; (3) the frequency and intensity of premium cigar use; (4) the proportion of premium cigar smokers showing symptoms of dependence; (5) the abuse liability of premium cigars; (6) the impact of premium cigar labeling, advertising, and marketing efforts on patterns of use.  Lastly, FDA also requested information on the extent to which users of other tobacco products might switch to premium cigars if FDA were to exempt premium cigars from regulation or regulate premium cigars differently from other cigars.[13]
  • Public health considerations associated with premium cigars: FDA requested studies or information regarding, among other things, and as compared to other cigars: (1) nicotine concentrations for premium cigars; (2) the risk of cancer, heart disease, aortic aneurysm, periodontal disease, stroke, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease associated with premium cigar use; (3) the addictiveness, and consumer perceptions of the addictiveness, of premium cigars; (4) the required warning statements for premium cigars; and (5) the applicable manufacturing, marketing, sale, distribution, advertising, and labeling and/or packaging requirements and restrictions in the FDCA and its implementing regulations and whether they should be applied differently to premium cigars.

Comments are due on the premium cigar ANPRM by June 25, 2018.

Summary

An Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking constitutes the earliest (and optional) stage of the administrative process that must be followed before eventually issuing an administrative rule.  As such, there is still ample time for efforts to influence the FDA’s regulatory approach to both premium cigars and tobacco product flavors by submitting comments to the administrative docket.  Companies or individuals interested in providing such feedback should consult with counsel to determine the best approach to maximize their impact with FDA.

[1]              See FDA, Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on Efforts to Reduce Tobacco Use, Especially Among Youth, by Exploring Options to Address the Role of Flavors – including Menthol – in Tobacco Products, https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/UCM601690.htm?utm_source=CTPEblast&utm_medium=email&utm_term=sro&utm_content=pressrelease&utm_campaign=ctp-flavanprm.

[1]              Regulation of Flavors in Tobacco Products, 83 Fed. Reg. 12294 (Mar. 21, 2018);

[2]              Regulation of Premium Cigars, 83 Fed. Reg. 12901 (Mar. 26, 2018).

[3]              FDA News Release, FDA Announces Comprehensive Regulatory Plan to Shift Trajectory of tobacco-related disease and death (July 28, 2017), https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm568923.htm.

[4]              83 Fed. Reg. 12994, 12998-99 (Mar. 21, 2018).

[5]              83 Fed. Reg. 12999.

[6]              Id.

[7]              Id.

[8]              83 Fed. Reg. 12901, 12902 (Mar. 26, 2018).

[9]              83 Fed. Reg. 12902. (emphasis added).

[10]             83 Fed. Reg. 12902-03, citing, Catherine G. Corey, MPSH et al., U.S. Adult Cigar Smoking patterns, Purchasing Behaviors, and Reasons for Use According to Cigar Type: Findings from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, 2013-2014, Nicotine & Tobacco Research (Sept. 15, 2017), available at https://academic.oup.com/ntr/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ntr/ntx209/4159211?redirectedFrom=fulltext.

[11]             Catherine G. Corey, MPSH et al., U.S. Adult Cigar Smoking patterns, Purchasing Behaviors, and Reasons for Use According to Cigar Type: Findings from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (PATH) study, 2013-2014, Nicotine & Tobacco Research (Sept. 15, 2017), available at https://academic.oup.com/ntr/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/ntr/ntx209/4159211?redirectedFrom=fulltext.

[12]             83 Fed. Reg. 12903.

[13]             83 Fed. Reg. 12904.

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In the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) latest effort to implement its comprehensive regulatory plan[1] to shift the trajectory of tobacco-related disease and death, the Agency issued, on March 15, 2018, an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) to obtain information for consideration in developing a tobacco product standard to set a maximum nicotine level for cigarettes.[2]  As described in a contemporaneous statement issued by FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., the ANPRM provides a wide-ranging review of the current scientific understanding about the role nicotine plays in addiction.[3]  Moreover, the ANPRM clarifies that FDA is considering “issuance of a product standard to set a maximum nicotine level in cigarettes so that they are minimally addictive or nonaddictive.”[4]

As detailed below, FDA requests in the ANPRM comments on, among other topics, the following:

  • Scope: Should the potential maximum nicotine level apply only to cigarettes or should it include other combustible tobacco products as well?
  • Maximum Nicotine Level: What is the maximum nicotine level that should be used as the threshold for “minimally addictive” or “non-addictive” levels?
  • Implementation: Should the maximum nicotine level for cigarettes propose a single target (where nicotine is reduced all at once or a stepped-down approach (where nicotine is reduced gradually over time through a sequence of incremental levels)?  Relatedly, what is the proper timeframe to implement a possible maximum nicotine level?
  • Analytical Testing Method: Should FDA specify a method for manufacturers to use to detect the level of nicotine in their products? If so, which method should be used?

Comments are due by June 14, 2018.

Scope of FDA’s Proposed Tobacco Product Standard

In the ANPRM, FDA seeks comments on whether the standard should cover any or all of the following products:  combusted cigarettes (which FDA has previously interpreted to include kreteks and bidis), cigarette tobacco, roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, some or all cigars (e.g., including large and “premium” cigars), pipe tobacco, and waterpipe tobacco.[5]  Importantly, the Agency explains that “any nicotine tobacco product standard would cover all brands in a particular product category and, therefore, those products currently on the market and any new tobacco products would be expected to adhere to the standard.”[6]  Key questions raised by the ANPRM also include whether so-called “premium” cigars should be regulated differently from other cigars and whether waterpipe tobacco products should be excluded because they are unlikely to be migration substitutes or dual use candidates.[7]

Identification and Implementation of Appropriate Maximum Nicotine Level

With respect to nicotine levels in cigarettes, FDA requested comments on a potential maximum nicotine level that would be “minimally addictive” or “non addictive” and appropriate for the protection of public health, recognizing that the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act specifically prohibits FDA from “requiring the reduction of nicotine yields of a tobacco product to zero.”[8]  Indeed, FDA is particularly interested in comments concerning the merits of nicotine levels of 0.3, 0.4, and 0.5 mg nicotine/g of tobacco filler.[9]  In addition, the ANPRM requests comments on how any potential maximum nicotine level should be measured (e.g., nicotine yield, nicotine in tobacco filler, something else), how the threshold of nicotine addiction should be measured, and whether the product standard should specify a method for manufacturers to use to detect the level of nicotine in their products.[10]  Further, FDA requests comments on whether a maximum nicotine level for cigarettes should propose either a single target (where the nicotine is reduced all at once) or a stepped-down approach (where the nicotine is reduced gradually over time through a sequence of incremental levels and implementation dates).[11]

Technical Challenges Associated with Implementation

The ANPRM also acknowledges the technical challenges associated with implementation of a maximum nicotine standard.  Indeed, FDA explains that “significant nicotine reductions in cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products can be achieved principally through tobacco blending and cross-breeding plants, genetic engineering, and chemical extraction.”[12]  Similarly, FDA notes that “agricultural practices (e.g., controlled growing conditions, fertilization, and harvest) as well as more recent, novel techniques also can help to reduce nicotine levels.”  With that in mind, FDA explains that it is considering the proper timeframe to allow adequate time for industry to comply with a possible tobacco product standard setting a maximum nicotine level.  Relatedly, the ANPRM requests data and information regarding the potential costs, including the potential costs to farmers, to implement such a standard.

Countervailing Effects of Potential Nicotine Standard

Notably, the ANPRM also outlines several possible countervailing effects of a potential nicotine tobacco product standard, including: (1) continued combustible tobacco product use (e.g., current users switching to, or using simultaneously (i.e., dual use), a different combusted tobacco product to maintain their nicotine dependence; (2) continued very low nicotine cigarette smoking with altered behaviors (e.g., increase in number of cigarettes smoked, increased depth of inhalation); (3) cigarette users adding nicotine in liquid or other form to their combusted tobacco product; and (4) increased illicit trade of tobacco products.[13]  FDA plans to consider each of these potential unintended consequences before moving forward with issuing a potential maximum nicotine level for combustible tobacco products.

Projected Health Benefits

As explained in FDA Commissioner Gottlieb’s statement accompanying the ANPRM, new estimates included in the ANPRM and to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, evaluate a potential policy scenario whereby a maximum nicotine level is implemented.  By the year 2100, the median estimate from the model, based on the experts’ estimates of potential initiation rates because of the policy, is that more than 33 million youth and young adults who would have otherwise initiated regular smoking would not start as a result of the hypothetical policy scenario.[14]  Further, using expert estimates for the percent of current smokers who would quit smoking after implementation of the policy, approximately 5 million additional smokers are estimated to quit smoking within one year after implementation of the standard.[15]  Under the same model, by 2060, it is estimated that a median value of almost 3 million deaths due to tobacco would be avoided.[16]

Impact of Potential Maximum Nicotine Level on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS)

Of note for the vapor industry, in the Agency’s discussion of the effects of FDA’s potential tobacco product standard establishing a maximum nicotine level for cigarettes, FDA essentially acknowledges, as it has in the past, that ENDS products are less harmful than cigarettes.  Indeed, FDA explains “former smokers that choose to switch completely to a potentially less harmful nicotine product (e.g., electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS)) to maintain their nicotine dose also would, to the extent that those products result in less harm, significantly reduce their risk of tobacco-related death and disease.”[17]  By implication, this statement appears to tacitly accept that current combustible tobacco product users are likely to switch to ENDS products not covered by the potential maximum nicotine level rule.

Indeed, this result was recognized in a 2018 update (discussed in the ANPRM) to a previously published discrete system dynamic population model that compared projected outcomes for a status quo scenario (in which no maximum nicotine level is implemented) with outcomes for a policy scenario in which a hypothetical regulation lowering nicotine in cigarettes and selected other combusted tobacco products, to minimally addictive levels.[18]  Importantly, the model of the potential effects of the maximum nicotine level for cigarettes projected a simultaneous reduction in cigarette smoking and an increase in non-combusted tobacco product use.[19]   Lastly, in an industry conference call held on March 15, 2018 to announce the ANPRM, Mitch Zeller, the Director of the Center for Tobacco Products, expressly acknowledged the Agency’s obligation under Commissioner Gottlieb’s new comprehensive plan to ensure that nicotine remains on the market in less harmful forms as FDA works to implement a potential maximum nicotine level for combustible cigarettes.

 

______________________________________________________

[1] FDA News Release, FDA Announces Comprehensive Regulatory Plan to Shift Trajectory of tobacco-related disease and death (July 28, 2017), https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm568923.htm.

[2] FDA, Tobacco Product Standard for Nicotine Level of Combusted Cigarettes Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), available at https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2018-05345.pdf (pre-publication copy), at 1.

[3] FDA Statement, Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on Pivotal Public Health Step to Dramatically Reduce Smoking Rates by Lowering Nicotine in Combustible Cigarettes to Minimally or Non-Additive Levels, https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/UCM601039.htm?utm_campaign=Statement_ANPRM%20to%20reduce%20nicotine%20in%20cigs&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua.

[4] Id., at 6

[5] Id., at 7.

[6] Id., at 8.

[7] Id., at 33.

[8] 21 U.S.C. § 387g(d)(3)(B)

[9] Tobacco Product Standard for Nicotine Level of Combusted Cigarettes Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), at 9.

[10] Id., at 9.

[11] Id., at 9

[12] Id., at 10.

[13] Id., at 10-12; See also FDA, Draft Concept Paper, “Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products after Implementation of an FDA Product Standard (Mar. 15, 2018), available at https://www.fda.gov/downloads/tobaccoproducts/newsevents/ucm601047.pdf.

[14] Id., at 74.

[15] Id., at 75.

[16] Id., at 75.

[17] Id., at 26.

[18] Id., at 69.

[19] Id., at 74.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of JC WalkerPhoto of Manesh RathPhoto of Daniel RubensteinPhoto of Benjamin Wolf

February 26, 2018 – Keller and Heckman LLP is pleased to announce the introduction of its Audit and Inspection Program (AIP) for Tobacco and Vapor Product Manufacturing Establishments.

The AIP was developed in response to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) inspection authority under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA or the Act), as amended by the Tobacco Control Act, which provides that FDA shall inspect each factory, warehouse, establishment, or vehicle in which tobacco products, including deemed tobacco products, are manufactured, processed, packed, or stored.  Pursuant to Sections 704 and 905 of the Act, FDA is directed to inspect every establishment at least once every two years.

Audit and Inspection Program

Keller and Heckman’s experienced team of attorneys and scientists will provide a comprehensive, on-site training and facility auditing program designed to help your company adequately prepare for an FDA inspection.  As part of the AIP, companies can expect:

  • An introductory presentation and memorandum detailing FDA’s inspection authority, what to expect during an inspection, and how to adequately prepare for – and respond to – an FDA inspection;
  • A full facility audit, consisting of a complete mock-inspection; and
  • A written post-inspection report detailing the overall readiness of the facility for an FDA inspection, including a list of specific recommendations and opportunities for improvement*

Keller and Heckman’s AIP program is designed to provide companies that are involved in any aspect of the tobacco or vapor product supply chain with confidence that their facilities are operating in accordance with FDA requirements.  The AIP will consider a broad range of inspection activities, including: recordkeeping, product labeling, product samples, requests for video/audio/photographic recordings, standard operating procedures, cleanliness and sanitation, inventory control, and personnel interviews.

Supplemental Environmental and OSHA Compliance Components

In addition to FDA compliance, the AIP offers companies the option to include supplemental compliance training and auditing focusing on environmental and occupational health and safety regulations and requirements – efficiently leveraging the FDA mock inspection and full facility audit.

  • Environmental: The AIP program will offer companies the opportunity to add an additional training and compliance component focusing on federal and state environmental and waste management regulations. Specifically, nicotine-bearing products may be subject to regulation under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) when disposed.  State regulations governing dangerous or industrial wastes also could apply.  This component will provide an overview of how nicotine in tobacco-based products are regulated differently than when found in e-cigarettes and other vaping products, and will provide valuable information regarding companies’ obligations in responding to these additional requirements.  For more information on environmental requirements, see here.
  • Occupational Health and Safety: Participants in the AIP program will also have the opportunity to add an additional training and compliance component focusing on federal and state Occupational Safety and Health laws. OSHA recordkeeping requirements apply to all employers, except very small businesses.  Most other OSHA standards apply to all employers, regardless of size.  This component will provide companies with a review of existing policies and practices, and will recommend specific actions designed to bring companies into compliance with regulations in areas relevant to the industry, including: personal protective equipment, emergency plans, fire protection, and hazard communication (g., labeling and safety data sheets).

Pre-Registration

Pre-registration for the AIP is available immediately by filling out the form available here:

Tobacco and Vapor Product Manufacturing Establishment Audit and Mock Inspection Program Pre-Registration Form

The completed pre-registration form can be E-mailed to chowdhury@khlaw.com, faxed to (202) 434-4646, or mailed to:

Keller and Heckman LLP
Attn: Azim Chowdhury
1001 G Street NW, Suite 500 West
Washington, D.C. 20001

Upon receipt of your pre-registration form, Keller and Heckman will provide your company with a formal written proposal and cost-estimate to conduct on-site training and mock inspection at your facility.  Scheduling is generally available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

*The written post-inspection report is covered by any existing attorney-client relationship between Keller and Heckman and the Company, and is generally not subject to discovery.  The recommendations set forth in the post-inspection report are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute any warranties or guarantees regarding the outcome of an actual FDA, EPA or OSHA inspection.  Keller and Heckman’s attorneys remain available and look forward to the opportunity to assist with any post-inspection activities or questions following completion of the written report.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Eric Gotting

On February 20, 2018 several organizations filed amicus (“friend of the court”) briefs in support of Plaintiff-Appellants Nicopure Labs’ and the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition’s appeal in the Deeming Rule challenge now pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) is a nonprofit, public-interest law firm and policy center dedicated to defending and promoting free enterprise, individual rights, limited government, and the rule of law. In particular, WLF has devoted substantial resources over the years to promoting the free-speech rights of consumers and merchants in the marketplace, appearing before many federal courts in raising First Amendment issues. WLF has actively litigated First Amendment limits on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) authority to restrict manufacturer speech.  In its amicus brief, WLF argues that FDA’s regulation of the vapor industry unjustifiably restricts truthful, non-misleading speech in violation of the First Amendment. By requiring vapor product companies to obtain FDA’s preapproval of “modified risk” claims before communicating their products’ uncontested health and related benefits to prospective consumers, the Deeming Rule effectively bans legally protected speech. The Rule will also harm those members of the public trying to quit smoking, who have a right to receive truthful information about comparatively safer alternatives to combustible tobacco.  Download the full brief here.

NJOY develops, imports, and distributes e-cigarettes and other electronic nicotine delivery products, and is committed to helping adult smokers switch completely from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes.  Like WLF, NJOY’s amicus brief addresses the First Amendment issue, i.e., “a government-imposed gag order” that blocks NJOY from truthfully describing its products to consumers.  Specifically, NJOY argues that FDA’s MRTP preclearance requirement is an unconstitutional speech-licensing regime that silences e-cigarette manufacturers and perpetuates misinformation about the comparative health risks of e-cigarettes and combustible cigarettes, jeopardizing the health of millions of smokers. Download the full brief here.

The State of Iowa also filed an amicus brief because it felt “compelled to defend its strong interest in reducing the number of Iowans who smoke combustible tobacco products,” noting that Iowa advocates for a harm-reduction approach and that “the difference between combustible cigarettes and non-combustibles, like e-cigarettes, is dramatic”.  Iowa argues that the MRTP process places a roadblock in the path of public health advocates and frustrates harm-reduction objectives by requiring pre-market review of truthful, non-misleading modified risk claims – which are protected by the First Amendment.  While Iowa supports rules that require pre-market review of any modified risk claim offered for a combustible tobacco product, generalized modified risk claims for e-cigarettes are different because they are true – and the MRTP process undermines momentum towards critical harm reduction by effectively silencing them. Download the full brief here.

The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), a non-profit 501(c)(4) organization with an all-volunteer board and a grassroots membership, is dedicated to ensuring the availability of reduced harm alternatives to smoking and to providing smokers and non-smokers alike with honest information about those alternatives so that they can make informed choices.  CASAA submitted an amicus brief to provide helpful information to the Court about the importance of flavors and sampling in connection with consumers (a) receiving information about products and (b) making a successful transition from smoking to vaping.  The brief discusses the critical need for consumers to receive truthful information from manufacturers and retailers about the low-risk nature of vapor products.  Download the full brief here.

Last, but certainly not least, Clive Bates, Director of The Counterfactual and former Director of the UK’s primary anti-smoking non-profit Action on Smoking in Health, as well as additional public health advocates Philip Alcabes, Scott Ballin, Konstantinos Farsalinos, Bill Godshall, Jacques Le Houezec, Bernd Mayer, Jeff Nesbit, Joel Nitzkin, Riccardo Polosa, Sally L. Satel, Michael B. Siegel, Jeff Stier, and David Sweanor, submitted an amicus brief because of their concern that excessively burdensome or restrictive regulation of e-cigarettes by FDA will have unintended consequences, effectively protecting the combustible cigarette market, increasing smoking and causing harm to health. The authors argue that vaping is proving highly beneficial to the health of millions of American adults as a low-risk alternative to cigarette smoking – which has fallen rapidly and reached record lows since vaping was introduced.  FDA’s approach to regulating e-cigarettes failed to account for the likelihood of the risks of harmful unintended consequences arising from its own interventions in the e-cigarette market.  Indeed, the authors make clear that the costs of the current regulatory approach are likely to overwhelm the claimed benefits, and a failure to account for them undermines the Deeming Rule.  Download the full brief here.

FDA’s reply brief in the appeal is due by April 18, 2018. We will keep you updated on the progress of the appeal.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Eric Gotting

On February 12, 2018, Nicopure Labs, LLC and the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition[i] (the Appellants) filed their opening brief in the appeal of last year’s decision from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which ruled in favor of FDA in the first lawsuit challenging aspects of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) and the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) Deeming Rule as they are being applied to the vapor industry. In the brief, the Appellants respectfully disagree with the lower court’s conclusions and believe that both the law and the facts compel a different result.

Specifically, Appellants argue that (1) the Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) provision of the TCA, as well as the ban on free samples of vapor products, violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and (2) FDA was obligated to consider a less burdensome Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA) process for vapor products while still protecting the public health. We summarize these issues in turn below, and you can download the full brief here.

1. Modified Risk Claims and Free Sample Ban

The MRTP provision in Section 911 of the TCA prohibits vapor companies from, among other things, representing without FDA authorization that their products: (i) present a lower risk of disease or is less harmful than another tobacco product; or (ii) contain a reduced level of, or is free from, a substance, or that exposure to a substance is reduced or eliminated.  In other words, this means that vapor companies require explicit FDA approval to tell adult consumers, for example, that their products do not contain certain substances (“no diacetyl” or “no allergens”), that they are unlike more dangerous cigarettes because they have “no tar” or produce “no combusted smoke,” and they pose less health risk to individuals than smoking cigarettes (as FDA itself has publicly stated numerous times). Obtaining such MRTP authorization is an incredibly onerous and expensive process (which no company has been able to achieve yet) that requires applicants to demonstrate that their product will:

(i) significantly reduce harm and the risk of tobacco-related disease to individual users; and

(ii) benefit the health of the population as a whole taking into account both users of tobacco products and persons who do not currently use tobacco products.

21 USC § 387k(g)(1). As to the latter “population effects” prong of the standard, applicants must establish not only the relative health risks of the subject product, but also the potential impact the product will have on overall tobacco use initiation and cessation. 21 USC § 387k(g)(4).

In reality, this imposes a prophylactic ban on MRTP claims and violates the First Amendment because it effectively prohibits truthful, non-misleading statements by vapor companies that convey information needed by adult consumers to make informed purchasing decisions and switch away from cigarettes to less risky vapor products. The First Amendment protects the rights of consumers in the marketplace to obtain product-related information so they can make educated decisions.

But vapor companies cannot make these claims without prior FDA approval and, in all likelihood, will never be able to because the Agency has never approved a claim under the stringent and cost prohibitive MRTP standard. As such, and as detailed in the brief, the MRTP process fails to meet the “intermediate scrutiny” standard required when the government regulates commercial speech.  Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of N.Y., 447 U.S. 557 (1980).

Similarly, the free sample ban violates the First Amendment because it prohibits adult consumers from trying different vapor products and obtaining valuable information about a novel product category that will help them transition away from cigarettes. Sampling is an “expressive” act that is protected speech. As FDA conceded, sampling conveys information that allows consumers to make individualized choices and change their purchasing behavior. This is important where, as FDA also acknowledged, smokers may have a better chance of switching to vapor products if they can continually sample a variety of e-liquid flavors. Indeed, numerous consumer surveys and other data indicate that smokers rely heavily on flavor variability and the opportunity to try different e-liquids and devices when considering vaping as a substitute for deadly smoking. But, as set forth in the brief, neither Congress nor FDA demonstrated that the free sample ban survives intermediate scrutiny.

2. PMTA Process

Since the Deeming Rule took effect on August 8, 2016, the restrictions on vapor products have been even more onerous than combustible cigarettes, most of which are grandfathered and exempt from FDA’s premarket review requirements. While FDA’s announcement last year for a “comprehensive regulatory plan to shift trajectory of tobacco-related disease, death” acknowledged, among other things, the tobacco harm reduction potential of vapor products and extended the compliance policy deadline for PMTAs for pre-August 8, 2016 vapor products to August 8, 2022, the reality is that safety advances and innovation have been stifled, and the industry still faces effectively being banned in a few short years.

In this regard, it is critical to recognize that the TCA has an overarching goal of ensuring that adult smokers continue to have access to innovative, less risky tobacco products. Despite this, and even though the Agency acknowledged that forcing vapor products to complete a one-size-fits-all PMTA process would eliminate over 95% of manufacturers (along with product variety those companies supply), FDA failed to tailor the PMTA process to less risky vapor products.  Indeed, to date FDA has only approved one PMTA (which was not for a vapor product) and, as provided in the brief, Deeming Rule commenters submitted compelling evidence showing the PMTA will be time and cost prohibitive. FDA was obligated, therefore, not just to extend the filing deadlines, but to consider a less burdensome PMTA process for vapor products (e.g., one that does not require long-term, clinical or epidemiological studies for each vapor product) while still protecting the public health.

FDA’s reply brief is due by April 18, 2018. We will keep you updated on the progress of the appeal.

The Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition and Nicopure Labs are represented in the appeal by Keller and Heckman LLP Partners Eric Gotting and Azim Chowdhury. For more information on the lawsuit and to contribute to the appeal efforts, visit www.r2bsmokefree.org.

[i]  The Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition trade association members supporting the appeal include the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA), American Vaping Association (AVA), Georgia Smoke Free Association (GSFA), Kentucky Smoke Free Association (KYSFA), Louisiana Vaping Association (LAVA), Maryland Vape Professionals, LLC (MVP), New Jersey Vapor Retailers Association (NJVRA), Ohio Vapor Trade Association (OHVTA), Tennessee Smoke Free Association (TSFA), and the Shenzhen E-Vapor Industry Association (SEVIA).  For a full list of members see www.r2bsmokefree.org.

Photo of Azim Chowdhury

This interview originally appeared here: https://www.cyclopsvapor.com/blog/qa-with-azim-chowdhury-pRight to be Smoke-Free artnerfda-group-tobacco-evapor-food-packaging-at-keller-and-heckman-llp/

Azim Chowdhury is nationally recognized as an expert on FDA issues as they relate to the tobacco and e-vapor industries. He represents tobacco, e-cigarette and e-liquid manufacturers, suppliers and trade associations in matters of FDA regulatory and corporate compliance, and spearheaded Keller and Heckman’s FDA tobacco and e-cigarette practice group. Keller and Heckman LLP, founded in 1962, has a broad practice in regulatory law and related litigation and business transactions. Keller and Heckman’s comprehensive and extensive experience dealing with the regulation of food, drugs, medical devices and dietary supplements before the FDA uniquely positions the firm to guide tobacco, e-cigarette and e-liquid companies through the myriad of statutory and regulatory requirements that will soon be applicable to these products.

In the anticipation of Keller and Heckman’s *2018 E-Vapor and Tobacco Law Symposium, spoke with Chowdhury about what to expect at the second annual event.

For our readers who don’t know, can you talk a little bit about how you got into vaping law/education as a specialty?

The first time I came across a vapor product was back in 2009. While shopping at the mall, I came across a kiosk selling Smoking Everywhere cigalikes. I had been practicing law for a few years at that point and was focusing on medical devices and FDA regulations. I was immediately intrigued by the so-called “electronic cigarettes,” and started researching. When and how FDA was going to regulate vapor products was very much uncertain — the Tobacco Control Act had just become law, giving FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, but the agency had already come out against e-cigarettes (the first time) arguing that they were unauthorized drug delivery devices. I wrote one of the first law articles on what FDA might do and how it would impact the burgeoning vapor industry for the Food and Drug Law Institute’s Update magazine (which you can findhere). I continued to write articles following the Sottera lawsuit, began speaking at conferences and attending vape expos, edited a couple of books, and quickly came to be recognized as a legal expert on vapor products.

In March 2010, I joined Keller and Heckman, a firm best known for its nationally-ranked FDA practice that includes lawyers as well as scientists, and spearheaded the E-Vapor Law Practice here. Now, we represent dozens of vapor businesses in the U.S. and around the world, including trade associations, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and retailers in matters of federal, state and global regulatory compliance, as well as litigation, business and intellectual property issues.

This year is the second E-Vapor and Tobacco Law Symposium. Can you talk about how this year’s agenda came into play and how it changed from last year’s?

Last year we launched the inaugural E-Vapor and Tobacco Law Symposium from our offices in Washington, D.C. It was an experiment to see how this industry, which is mostly used to vape expos, trade shows and advocacy events, would react to a legal training seminar. Keller and Heckman’s well-established food, packaging and environmental practices have a long history of hosting these types of seminars, so this is right up our alley. Because the Deeming Rule had just become effective, we knew it was the right time to bring this type of event to the vapor industry to help companies understand how to stay in compliance.

With the success of last year’s Symposium, we decided to take the event “on the road” to Irvine, Calif., to reach a broader audience and make it easier for businesses on the West Coast to attend. With all the changes with the new administration, a new FDA commissioner and new policies that seem to indicate a shift in the agency’s view of these products (we hope), we are covering a lot more material at this year’s event. In addition to our Keller and Heckman experts, we are particularly excited for our guest speakers, several coming from overseas, who will be presenting on topics including good manufacturing practices, state laws, EU and UK laws, and vapor device standards.

Stepping further into that, what are some of the biggest challenges that vapers and business owners need to be aware of this year?

Companies must understand that even though the deadline for premarket applications for products on the market today has been delayed until 2022, the Deeming Rule is still in effect, and there are several fast-approaching deadlines for requirements such as ingredient reporting and HPHC testing that companies need to comply with in the meantime. We are expecting FDA to ramp up enforcement and inspections of facilities, so being prepared for that is critical. We will also be addressing the elephant in the room — Premarket Tobacco Product Applications (PMTAs) — and how companies might be able to work together to save money and submit applications to FDA.

Beyond FDA, more states are passing legislation impacting this industry, including new taxes and licensing requirements. Much of this will be covered at the Symposium. We are also seeing more companies get notices from state environmental regulators regarding how they are storing and disposing of nicotine and other hazardous chemicals. We think that is going to be a big issue in 2018 and moving forward.

Finally, if you’re looking to expand your business beyond the U.S. to the EU or Asia, we are going to have a lot of great presentations on how to do that.

Have there been any wins within the law that you’ve seen for our industry?

There have been a lot of victories at the state level by advocacy organizations such as SFATA, VTA and the Smoke-Free Associations fighting for vaper’s rights. We also had a huge victory last year on behalf of the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition in Indiana, where we got the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the unconstitutional parts of Indiana’s e-liquid law (seehere). The industry should also consider FDA’s extension of the PMTA deadline as a victory that resulted from everyone’s lobbying efforts, as well as the threat from the lawsuits.

One topic we will be discussing at the Symposium is the appeal of the Nicopure and Right to be Smoke-Free challenge to the Deeming Rule, and how companies can still help with that effort.

The symposium schedule is jam packed and really looks like a must-attend event. Can you talk further about the importance of this two-day event?

I do believe this is a must-attend event for businesses who truly are interested in complying with the law and staying around for the long-term. This will also be a great opportunity to network with Keller and Heckman attorneys and other experts, as well as with other businesses. So far, we have over 100 registered attendees that include some of the biggest names in the industry, but also a lot of smaller companies who are looking to do things the right way.

*Seating is limited, but it is still not too late to register! Keller and Heckman is also exploring options for next year’s Symposium, and may take it to the Midwest or back to the East Coast.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of JC Walker

Beyond the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Tobacco Control Act requirements that now apply to deemed tobacco products, manufacturers and retailers of vapor products, and particularly e-liquids, also face stringent environmental and waste management regulations and compliance issues that are significantly more complex than those faced by cigarette and traditional tobacco product companies. This dichotomy arises because regulations promulgated pursuant to the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) treat nicotine in tobacco-based products differently than when found in e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

Compliance with the waste management regulations can be confusing because their scope and extent will vary by the amount of waste nicotine produced at a manufacturing facility or the amount of nicotine-containing products collected for disposal by a retailer. Further complicating the issue, even if exempted from the RCRA regulations, certain nicotine-containing products may be subject to state regulation of nicotine as a dangerous or industrial waste. Although there have been few enforcement actions brought against vapor or e-liquid manufacturers or retailers, regulators have noted the industry’s growth and potential for noncompliance. Going forward, we expect regulators to focus less on educating the industry about waste management obligations and follow a more active enforcement approach.

RCRA Overview

The federal RCRA regulations and state analogues establish a comprehensive system for managing hazardous waste from “cradle to grave,” that is from the point the waste is generated until its ultimate disposal. Broadly speaking, the regulations prescribe how to determine if and when a material is regulated as a hazardous waste, and how to manage the waste once the determination is made. Critically, RCRA only applies when the material becomes solid waste, meaning that it has been discarded by being abandoned, recycled, or treated as “inherently-waste like,” or the decision to discard has been made.[1]

Having decided to discard a material, the waste generator must next determine whether the waste is hazardous. This is done in one of two ways: (1) does the waste contain materials that EPA has listed in one of the three hazardous waste lists codified at 40 C.F.R. Part 261, subpart D; or (2) does the waste exhibit one or more of four characteristics: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity?[2] With regards to e-liquids and other nicotine-bearing products, certain unused chemicals are listed hazardous wastes when discarded.[3] The hazardous waste listing applies when the following three criteria have been met. First, the chemical must be listed at 40 C.F.R. § 261.33(e) or (f). Nicotine and its salts are listed at 40 C.F.R. § 261.33(e) as an acute hazardous waste with the P075 waste code. Second, the listing applies “if and when they are discarded or intended to be discarded” prior to use.[4] Given its intended function, nicotine in e-cigarettes is not used until it has been inhaled by the end user.

Third, the listed chemical must be discarded in the form of a “commercial chemical product or manufacturing chemical intermediate having the generic name of the listed chemical” (CCP). The term CCP refers to a chemical substance which is manufactured or formulated for commercial or manufacturing use and which consists of the commercially pure grade of the chemical, any technical grades of the chemical that are produced or marketed, all formulations in which the chemical is the sole active ingredient, and any off-specification forms of the foregoing chemicals.[5] Products with more than one active ingredient are not regulated as CCP, although they may still be regulated hazardous wastes if they exhibit one of the hazardous characteristics.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nicotine is the “sole active ingredient” in e-cigarettes because it is the “only chemically active component that performs the function of the product.[6] Flavorings, sweeteners, colorants and other components are considered inert ingredients. Consequently, raw material (i.e., nicotine), off-spec e-liquids, container residues, and spill residues are hazardous wastes when they are discarded or intended to be discarded from businesses. In addition, EPA has stated that because certain e-cigarettes contain cartridges that are containers of a CCP, they too must be treated as hazardous waste when disposed.[7] This also applies to tanks and pods used in open-systems and advanced vaporizers to hold the nicotine-containing e-liquid.

RCRA Requirements Depend on Quantity

Hazardous waste compliance requirements vary significantly under RCRA depending on the amount of hazardous waste a facility generates each month. Thus, the generator category of a company and commensurate requirements, including storage and accumulation, recordkeeping and reporting, and training requirements could change from month to month.[8] Keeping up with these changes and ensuring a facility complies can be particularly burdensome for small businesses, such as those that constitute a large portion of the vapor industry.

Nicotine’s status as an acute hazardous waste is likely the primary driver for determining the “generator” category for an e-liquid or vapor product manufacturer. Businesses that generate acute hazardous waste (“generators”) are categorized as very small quantity generators (VSQGs) when generating up to 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) per month, and large quantity generators (LQGs) when generating more than 2.2 pounds per month.[9] Regulatory requirements are significantly greater for LQGs, as is clear from a guidance chart developed by EPA.[10] Thus, e-liquid manufacturers have a strong incentive to operate as VSQGs or small quantity generators (SQGs).

When a generator has multiple hazardous waste streams, the generator must quantify each waste stream separately and abide by the more stringent generator category.[11] An e-liquid manufacturer will be classified as an SQG if the manufacturer does not exceed the 2.2 pound per month threshold for acute hazardous waste but generates greater than 100 pounds of non-acute hazardous waste per month.[12] For example, a generator of up to 2.2 pounds of acute hazardous waste that crossed the 220 pound threshold for non-acute hazardous waste may need to comply with SQG requirements, as opposed to VSQG requirements.

Fortunately, a generator has some options for managing hazardous wastes: recycling, treatment, storage, or disposal. Each approach has its own implications and requirements under RCRA. Recycling (e.g., nicotine reclamation) is a management method that can have a meaningful impact on the standards applicable to hazardous waste generators. Provided that the company can demonstrate the recycling is legitimate, the reclaimed nicotine will not be considered solid waste.[13] Recycling is a particularly appealing option as it can reduce the amount of material counted as hazardous waste for purposes of determining the generator category.

E-liquids May Be an Increasing Focus for Enforcement

Compliance with RCRA requirements by vapor product and e-liquid manufacturers is an increasing area of emphasis for both the states and EPA. Thus far, states have focused on outreach to the industry regarding compliance measures.[14] Such outreach typically lasts from six months to a year to provide a chance for the industry to come into compliance before the agencies transition to enforcement. Given that the e-cigarette and vaping industries have been growing for several years, and that the past two years have seen an increase in state proposals and communications concerning this issue, industry members need to consider whether regulators will pursue a more aggressive enforcement agenda in the new year and going forward. Accordingly, e-cigarette and e-liquid manufacturers should evaluate their processes and potential impact on generator status to determine whether their facilities are complying with RCRA or state analogues.

To learn more about the environmental and hazardous waste management regulations that apply to your e-liquid or vapor business, be sure to attend our upcoming E-Vapor and Tobacco Law Symposium on February 6-7, 2018 in Irvine, California. Click here to register and for more information.

For more information on our Tobacco and E-Vapor Practice, visit www.khlaw.com/evapor. For more information on our Environmental Practice, visit www.khlaw.com/Environmental. Follow Keller and Heckman Tobacco and E-Vapor Partner Azim Chowdhury on Twitter.

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[1] 40 C.F.R. §§ 261.2(a), 261.33.
[2] 40 C.F.R. §§ 261.20-261.24.
[3] See 40 C.F.R. § 261.33.
[4] 40 C.F.R. § 261.33. See also EPA Letter to Merck Sharp & Dohme, FaxBack #11012, May 13, 1981.
[5] 40 C.F.R. § 261.33(b)
[6] Letter from Barnes Johnson, EPA, to Daniel K. DeWitt, Warner, Norcross & Judd LLP (May 8, 2015), RCRA Online #14850.
[7] Id.
[8] Recent revisions to the regulations do provide some relief to companies that consistently qualify under one category but experience an episodic event that shifts them to a more burdensome one. The rules generally limit the facility to one episodic event, however. See Hazardous Waste Generator Improvements Rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 85,732 (November 28, 2016).
[9] 40 C.F.R. § 262.13.
[10] U.S. EPA, “Hazardous Waste Generator Regulatory Summary,” available at:https://www.epa.gov/hwgenerators/hazardous-waste-generator-regulatory-summary.
[11] 40 C.F.R. § 262.13.
[12] See 40 C.F.R. § 262.13.
[13] Four factors are used to determine whether recycling is “legitimate.” 40 C.F.R. § 260.43(g). First, recycling must involve a hazardous secondary material that provides a useful contribution to the recycling process or to a product or intermediate of the recycling process. For example, the nicotine-containing materials may be the source of a valuable constituent (i.e., nicotine) recovered in the recycling process. Second, the recycling process must produce a valuable product or intermediate, which can be demonstrated by sale of the recycled product to a third party, by its use as an effective substitute for a commercial product, or by its use as ingredient in a process. Third, the generator and the recycler must manage the hazardous secondary material as a valuable commodity when it is under their control. This would entail management of nicotine-containing materials consistent with how raw nicotine is managed. Fourth, the product of the recycling process must be comparable to a legitimate product or intermediate. For example, the recycled product should meet widely recognized specifications for the raw material and not contain hazardous constituents in greater levels than a non-recycled analogue. See Letter from Barnes Johnson, EPA, to Scott DeMuth, g2revolution LLP (May 8, 2015), RCRA Online #14851.
[14] See, e.g., New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, “Compliance Advisory Update – Compliance Assistance Available for Vape Shops and Manufacturers” (June 20, 2017), available at: http://www.nj.gov/dep/enforcement/advisories/2017-03.pdf.