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Defendant U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Right to Be Smoke-Free Coalition (RSF) recently submitted briefs to the federal district court of Maryland opposing a motion for summary judgment filed by various public health NGOs in American Academy of Pediatrics v. FDA.[1] The NGOs are challenging various extensions to premarket application compliance deadlines for deemed tobacco products that were announced as part of FDA’s new comprehensive tobacco and nicotine regulatory plan, and finalized in its August 2017 Guidance Document, Extension of Certain Tobacco Product Compliance Deadlines Related to the Final Deeming Rule (the “Guidance”). This includes the August 8, 2022 compliance deadline for filing vapor product Premarket Tobacco Applications (PMTAs), which was extended from the original August 8, 2018 cutoff for products on the market on August 8, 2016, as initially set forth in the Deeming Rule. RSF is not a party to the lawsuit, but filed an amicus (or “friend of the court”) brief defending the compliance period so that vapor product manufacturers have adequate time to prepare compliant applications. We provide background on the case and the NGOs’ opening positions in our August 2, 2018 post, linked here, and highlight below key points from FDA’s and RSF’s briefs.

FDA Argues that the Court Lacks Jurisdiction to Hear the Case or, In the Alternative, the NGOs’ Motion for Summary Judgment Fails on the Merits

In its opposition brief (available here), FDA begins by arguing that the Court does not have jurisdiction to even hear the dispute.

First, FDA maintains that the NGOs lack “standing” – i.e., that the NGOs do not have a sufficient connection to the PMTA issue to bring the lawsuit.[2] In essence, FDA claims that the NGOs will not suffer a concrete and redressable injury if the August 8, 2022 compliance date is upheld. The NGOs complain that if PMTAs are not filed until that date then they will not be able to educate the public in the near-term about information that would otherwise be contained in the PMTAs. But as FDA points out, this argument was soundly rejected by another federal court in Cigar Ass’n of Am. v. FDA after the NGOs tried to intervene in that lawsuit challenging aspects of the Deeming Rule filed by the cigar and pipe tobacco industries.[3] In that case, it was not enough for the NGOs – who are not subject to the PMTA requirements themselves – to rely on generalized and speculative allegations that it might somehow be more difficult or costly to disseminate information to the public in the absence of PMTAs. According to FDA, the same holds true here. Moreover, FDA argues that the NGOs fail to cite any authority that gives them a legal right to the type of information, whether now or at a later date, contained in a PMTA.

Second, FDA claims that the Court lacks jurisdiction because the agency was simply exercising its enforcement discretion not to require PMTAs for a specified period of time, the type of decision that typically is not subject to review by federal courts. Not only is the revised compliance period limited in duration, it is also part of a broader comprehensive policy to address tobacco-related issues and ensure that high-quality applications are filed, which will include upcoming efforts by FDA to further delineate through guidance and rulemaking what information must be included in PMTAs. For support, the agency cites to Supreme Court case law that reserves to agencies the discretion to prioritize their activities, allocate resources, and adopt overall policies – including those involving enforcement – in the absence of statutory mandates to the contrary.[4] FDA concludes that the Tobacco Control Act (TCA)[5] does not prohibit the agency from establishing reasonable compliance deadlines.

Finally, the agency relies on long-standing law that guidance documents are typically not subject to review by federal courts under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).[6] Unlike a formal rule, guidance does not impose obligations on the agency or legal duties on regulated entities; rather, guidance only represents an agency’s current thinking, which in this case is that FDA does not intend to enforce the PMTA requirements until August 8, 2022 for products that were already on the market when the Deeming Rule went into effect on August 8, 2016. In other words, the Guidance does not have the finality of a regulation – it merely summarizes FDA’s exercise of discretion – that would lend itself to judicial review.

FDA further maintains that, even if the Court has jurisdiction to hear the case, the NGOs’ motion should be denied on the merits. The agency first argues that the Guidance does not conflict with the TCA’s PMTA provisions[7] because it does not modify any statutory requirements.[8] Manufacturers are still required to submit PMTAs. The Guidance merely describes FDA’s intention not to enforce the PMTA requirements for a limited period of time, which is a discretionary determination reserved to the agency. In fact, FDA notes that the NGOs submitted comments during the rulemaking acknowledging that the agency has discretion to establish a compliance period for new tobacco products. Moreover, FDA points to more practical reasons for setting an August 8, 2022 filing deadline, all of which are consistent with the TCA, including the agency’s need to more efficiently manage those PMTAs that are eventually filed and to ensure high-quality submissions.

Second, FDA rebuts the NGOs’ claim that the agency, before it extended the compliance period, failed under the APA to provide notice to the public, and solicit and accept comments on the Guidance.[9] Underpinning the NGOs’ argument, however, is the premise that the Guidance is a formal rule and thus subject to the APA’s notice and comment requirements. But a rule has the force of law and imposes legal rights and obligations, which contrasts with a guidance document that merely advises the public on how the agency intends to assert its discretionary power.[10] As FDA points out, the Guidance does nothing more than simply indicate when it will exercise its enforcement discretion as to the filing of premarket applications for deemed tobacco products.

Finally, FDA maintains that it sufficiently justified the extension, contrary to the NGOs’ claims.  Under the APA, agencies must explain their actions and engage in reasoned decision-making.[11] In support, FDA explicitly cited to arguments made by RSF in Nicopure, et al. v. FDA – that the original August 8, 2018 deadline was not sufficient and that the judge in that case indicated that other filing deadlines may have been reasonable.[12] The agency then noted that the new compliance period is part of an overarching comprehensive plan to regulate nicotine and tobacco, and that the extension will allow the agency to provide further direction to industry through guidance and rulemaking on how the PMTA process will work.[13] As characterized by the agency, the plan is intended “to make certain that the FDA is striking an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging the development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than cigarettes,” such as vapor products.[14]

RSF Argues that the Original PMTA Deadlines in the Deeming Rule Were Unattainable and that Vacating the Guidance Would Virtually Ban the Industry and Deprive the Public of the Health Benefits Provided by Vapor Products 

To provide the vapor industry perspective, RSF filed an amicus brief in support of the extended compliance deadline (available here). RSF makes two arguments in favor of the new PMTA filing date: (1) that no vapor company could have met the initial two-year deadline because industry would not have had sufficient time to complete the burdensome applications, including the long-term, product-specific clinical/epidemiological studies that FDA will likely require; and (2) that the two-year deadline, were it reinstated by setting aside the Guidance and granting the NGOs’ motion, would effectively ban vapor products, which provide an important public health benefit to transitioning smokers.

Vapor product manufacturers could not have met the original August 8, 2018 deadline because of the tremendous expectations set forth by FDA in its 2016 draft guidance for PMTA submissions for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (PMTA draft guidance).[15] Among other things, the PMTA draft guidance states that:

  • Manufacturers should file a separate PMTA for each “finished tobacco product”;
  • Components should be tested for each device in which they could reasonably be used;
  • The relative health risks of each new e-liquid or device should be compared to the anticipated risks of other tobacco products on the market;
  • Literature relevant to each product should be thoroughly reviewed and the findings included in any PMTA submission; and
  • Manufacturers should test each product for a broad range of characteristics, including chemical identity, constituent composition, aerosol emissions under a range of operating conditions, toxicological and pharmacological profiles, storage and stability profiles, environmental effects, and use patterns at different nicotine levels.

The most significant concern, however, is that under the PMTA draft guidance manufacturers will likely be expected to conduct exceedingly expensive and long-term clinical/epidemiological studies. In its brief, RSF presents publicly available evidence from long-term studies recently funded by the federal government showing that this type of research, on average, takes at least two years, and in many circumstances far longer. In fact, RSF points out that FDA’s own long-term epidemiological study (called the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health or “PATH” study) on tobacco products, including e-liquids and devices, has already taken seven years and is still on-going. As such, it was completely unrealistic for FDA to expect that industry would have been able to file compliant applications by the original August 2018 deadline[16] and, as a consequence, the vast majority of manufacturers would have had to leave the marketplace after that compliance period expired.

In its brief, RSF also notes that such a large-scale market exit could have a significant adverse impact on the public health. RSF demonstrates, in particular, that having access to a large variety of products and e-liquid flavors is often a key component in any individual’s attempt to switch away from cigarettes and transition to less risky vapor products. As Julie T. Woessner, National Policy Director for the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA), explains in an accompanying affidavit filed with the court, “a significant number of our members use more than one flavor or brand of e-liquid . . . we find those making a complete transition from smoking to vaping most often report that finding a non-tobacco flavor was instrumental in helping them distance themselves from their smoking habit, and sampling a variety of different flavors actually served to make vaping more enjoyable than smoking.”

Ms. Woessner then articulates the public health benefit that could be lost: “[I]f consumers do not have access to these products, there is a substantial risk that they will return to their old smoking habits or feel forced to rely on do-it-yourself (“DIY”) activities or an unregulated black market for e-liquids and devices. This is not merely a theoretical concern. . . [w]hen asked what they would do in response to a total ban on all vapor products – the entire product category – 93% of the CASAA [Member] Survey respondents indicated that they would continue to use the products they enjoy by either purchasing them from overseas or a domestic black market, or by engaging in DIY activities.”

The Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition is represented by Keller and Heckman Partners Azim Chowdhury and Eric Gotting. We will continue to monitor the progress of this lawsuit and will provide a summary of the court’s decision on the NGOs’ motion for summary judgment.

_________________________________________

[1] Case No. 8:18-cv-00883 (D. Md.)  It bears noting that an amicus brief in support of Plaintiff NGOs was filed on July 17, 2018 on behalf of the American Thoracic Society and other public health organizations. The brief, which is available here, addresses the health effects of all products newly-deemed by the Deeming Rule, including combustible tobacco products, like cigars. The brief does not address legal arguments in the case, nor does it address the potential public health benefits of newly available, non-combustible products for longtime smokers.

[2] See, e.g., Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992).

[3] Cigar Ass’n of America v. FDA, 323 F.R.D. 54 (D.D.C 2017).

[4] Heckler v. Chaney, 480 U.S. 821 (1985).

[5] 21 U.S.C. §§ 387 et seq.

[6] Bennett v. Spear, 520 U.S. 154, 177–79 (1997); Am. Tort Reform Ass’n v. Occupational Safety & Health Admin., 738 F.3d 387, 395 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

[7] 21 U.S.C. §§ 387j(a)(2), (c)(1)(A)(i).

[8]  As detailed in the Nicopure v. FDA litigation (Case No. 17-5196) (D.C. Cir.), RSF maintains that FDA had a statutory obligation to tailor the PMTA process to less risky vapor products and allow the vapor industry to submit PMTAs that do not include product-specific long-term clinical/epidemiological studies; instead, industry could rely on an existing scientific literature review showing that vapor products present substantially less risk than cigarettes on the whole and are thus appropriate for the public health.  Indeed, Congress gave FDA such authority within the PMTA provision itself, only requiring clinical studies “when appropriate” and permitting use of other “valid scientific evidence.”  21 U.S.C. § 387j(c)(5).  Unfortunately, FDA rejected this approach during the rulemaking.  See 81 Fed. Reg. at 28,997.

[9] 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq.; 5 U.S.C. § 553.

[10] See Bennett, 520 U.S. at 178.

[11] FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 515 (2009).

[12] Nicopure Labs, LLC v. FDA, 266 F. Supp. 3d 360, 399–400 (D.D.C. 2017).  That case is now on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, with oral arguments scheduled for September 11, 2018.  See Update on Deeming Rule Appeal available at https://www.thecontinuumofrisk.com/2018/07/fda-commissioner-dr-scott-gottliebs-recent-remarks-vapor-products-continuum-risk-update-deeming-rule-appeal/.

[13] FDA News Release, “Protecting American Families: Comprehensive Approach to Nicotine and Tobacco,” https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Speeches/ucm569024.htm (July 18, 2017) (last accessed: 08/21/18).

[14] Id.

[15] FDA, Premarket Tobacco Product Applications for Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems: Guidance for Industry (Draft Guidance) (May 2016).

[16] Indeed, as summarized previously on this blog here, on August 2, 2018, just before the initial PMTA deadline would have expired, FDA announced it would soon be issuing additional guidance, holding a public hearing and begin a new rulemaking regarding the PMTA process.  See FDA, Advancing Tobacco Regulation to Protect Children and Families: Updates and New Initiatives, https://tinyurl.com/y8wked2z.  As such, it is not clear how manufacturers would have been able to submit complete applications by the original cutoff if FDA itself is still in the process of finalizing the PMTA framework.

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On August 2, 2018, just over one year since FDA announced its “Comprehensive Plan for Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation”[1] (hereinafter, the “Comprehensive Plan”), FDA Commissioner, Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) Director, Mitch Zeller, J.D., authored a post on the Agency’s FDA Voice blog, which reviewed the progress made to date and outlined several new initiatives related to the Comprehensive Plan.[2]  Among other things, these initiatives included a potential e-cigarette product standard and also proposed foundational rules on various topics related to premarket applications.  The authors note that the Comprehensive Plan is a multi-year roadmap for the future of tobacco regulation and “provides a framework for regulating nicotine and tobacco.”[3]

Recent Actions Implementing FDA’s Comprehensive Plan

The FDA Voice blog post recounts the FDA’s actions over the first year of the Comprehensive Plan.  For instance, the authors note that FDA recently issued three advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) that have the “potential to reframe the tobacco landscape.”[4]  These ANRPMs focus on: (i) the potential development of a product standard to lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or no-addictive levels; (ii) the role that flavors – including menthol – play in initiation, use and cessation of tobacco products; (iii) the patterns of use and resulting public health impacts from “premium” cigars.  While the comment period for each of these ANPRMs has closed, FDA is currently in the process of reviewing the comments that the Agency has received.  In addition, the authors note the Agency’s efforts to re-evaluate and modernize its approach to the development of nicotine replacement therapy products, including, among other things, by establishing a Nicotine Steering Committee and issuing a draft guidance related to the nonclinical testing of orally inhaled nicotine-containing drug products.[5]

Establishing a Rigorous, Science-Based Framework for Premarket Review of Tobacco Products

The FDA also announced that a key part of its Comprehensive Plan involves issuing foundational rules and guidance to help industry better understand what is required to submit premarket applications.  Indeed, “[e]stablishing a rigorous, predictable, science-based framework for the premarket review of tobacco products is a key element of [FDA’s] program.”[6] With that in mind, the FDA announced several steps to achieve these goals.  First, the Agency announced that it plans to propose new rules in the coming months to aid industry on topics including Substantial Equivalence, Premarket Tobacco Product Applications, Modified Risk Tobacco Product Applications, and Tobacco Product Manufacturing Practices.  Second, FDA plans to hold a public meeting on the premarket application and review process on October 22-33, 2018.[7]  Third, FDA plans to explore opportunities for premarket review efficiencies through rulemaking and guidance as well as new administrative steps to modernize and improve the review process.

FDA did not mention whether it might consider further extending its compliance policy deadlines, which are currently being challenged by several public health groups, that permit deemed tobacco products on the market as of August 8, 2016 (the effective date of the Deeming Rule) to remain on the market until applications are due by August 8, 2021 (for combustible products) or August 8, 2022 (for non-combustibles). Considering that FDA is only now, exactly two years after the Deeming Rule went into effect, announcing potential new guidance documents, rulemakings and public hearings “within the coming months,” additional time for industry to comply would seem warranted.

New Initiatives to Address Youth Use of Tobacco Products

The FDA Voice blog post elucidates a bedrock principle: No kids should be using any tobacco or nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes.[8]  With that in mind, the authors summarize FDA’s recent actions aimed at addressing youth use of nicotine, and e-cigarettes specifically.  Among other things, the FDA has recently sent warning letters to companies for selling e-liquids resembling juice boxes, candies, and cookies[9]; sent warning letters to retailers for selling JUUL e-cigarettes to youth[10]; and worked with eBay to remove internet listings for JUUL.[11]

However, the blog post also outlines three additional new initiatives to address these concerns.  Among other things, the FDA Voice blog post announced that FDA has “begun exploring a product standard for e-cigarettes.”[12]  As part of this standard, the FDA plans to consider, among other things, levels of toxicants and impurities in propylene glycol, glycerin, and nicotine in e-liquids.[13]  Additionally, FDA announced that it plans to expedite the Agency’s review and analysis of comments on the flavors ANPRM so that the Agency can pursue policy solutions, should the science support further action.  Lastly, the FDA explained that it is exploring ways that FDA can act more efficiently when the Agency becomes aware of violations affecting youth use of e-cigarettes, such as illegal product marketing to youth.[14]

Enforcement of New Products Without Premarket Authorization

While deemed tobacco products on the market as of August 8, 2016 can take advantage of the premarket application compliance policy noted above, new products intended to be introduced for the first time after August 8, 2016 must first obtain FDA premarket authorization. Regarding new products that have allegedly been introduced without such authorization, the blog authors note:  “We’ve also become aware of reports that some companies may be marketing new products that were introduced after the FDA’s compliance period and have not gone through premarket review. These products are being marketed both in violation of the law and outside of the FDA’s announced compliance policies. We take these reports very seriously. Companies should know that the FDA is watching and we will take swift action wherever appropriate.”

Potential Impact on Vapor Industry

While the FDA Voice blog post largely outlines previously known regulatory initiatives, the Agency’s discussion of FDA initiatives to address youth use of tobacco products outlines several new proposals of interest to the vapor industry.  Indeed, an e-cigarette product standard could dramatically impact the design and production of future e-cigarettes.  Likewise, any action regulating the marketing of flavored tobacco products, including flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquids, could shape the vapor industry for years to come.  From an administrative perspective, the FDA’s initiatives to propose foundational rules, hold a public meeting on premarket review, and explore opportunities for premarket review efficiencies, offer the potential to greatly improve the premarket review process, if companies are given enough time to comply.

Looking back, the FDA’s Comprehensive Plan brought a much-needed revamp to the Agency’s approach to tobacco and nicotine regulation.  Only time will tell whether the Agency is able to translate its regulatory plan into effective regulatory policy.

[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 Voice Blog, Advancing Tobacco Regulation to Protect Children and Families: Updates and New Initiatives from the FDA on the Anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act and FDA’s Comprehensive Plan for Nicotine (Aug. 2, 2018), https://blogs.fda.gov/fdavoice/index.php/2018/08/advancing-tobacco-regulation-to-protect-children-and-families-updates-and-new-initiatives-from-the-fda-on-the-anniversary-of-the-tobacco-control-act-and-fdas-comprehensive-plan-for-nicotine/.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] FDA Statement, Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on New Steps the Agency is Taking to Support the Development of Novel Nicotine Replacement Drug Therapies to Help Smokers Quit Cigarettes (Aug. 3, 2018), https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm615740.htm?

utm_campaign=08032018_Statement_FDA%20statement%20on%20developing%20new%20nicotine%20replacement%20drug%20therapies&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua.

[6] Id.

[7] FDA Website, Tobacco Product Application Review – A Public Meeting (Oct. 22-23, 2018), https://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/NewsEvents/ucm615443.htm.

[8] FDA Voice Blog, Advancing Tobacco Regulation to Protect Children and Families: Updates and New Initiatives from the FDA on the Anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act and FDA’s Comprehensive Plan for Nicotine (Aug. 2, 2018).

[9] FDA News Release, FDA, FTC Take Action Against Companies Misleading Kids with E-Liquids That Resemble Children’s Juice Boxes, Candies, and Cookies (May 1, 2018), https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm605507.htm.

[10] FDA Statement, Statement from FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., on New Enforcement Actions and a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to Stop Youth Use of, and Access to, JUUL and Other E-Cigarettes (Apr. 24, 2018), https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm605432.htm.

[11] FDA Voice Blog, Advancing Tobacco Regulation to Protect Children and Families: Updates and New Initiatives from the FDA on the Anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act and FDA’s Comprehensive Plan for Nicotine (Aug. 2, 2018).

[12] Id.  

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

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On March 27, 2018, a coalition of public health organizations including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Truth Initiative, the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among others, as well as several individual physicians (collectively the “NGOs”) filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland challenging the Food and Drug Administration’s (“FDA’s”) ability to extend the compliance policy deadlines for premarket authorization applications for deemed tobacco products (Case No. 8:18-cv-00883). On July 10, 2018, the NGOs filed a motion for summary judgment, available here.

The case challenges FDA’s August 2017 Guidance Document, Extension of Certain Tobacco Product Compliance Deadlines Related to the Final Deeming Rule (the “Guidance”) which, among other things: (1) extended the deadlines for premarket applications for deemed tobacco products, such as e-liquids and vapor products, as well as cigars, hookah, and pipe tobacco; and (2) ended the one-year “sunset provision” in the initial compliance policy, permitting manufacturers to continue marketing deemed products that are the subject of timely filed premarket applications that have been accepted by FDA for scientific review.

The NGOs make three main arguments: (1) the Guidance unlawfully authorizes manufacturers to continue marketing newly-deemed tobacco products without obtaining the required FDA marketing order, contrary to the requirements of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (“TCA”); (2) the Guidance is an administrative “rule” and FDA issued it without providing the public notice and an opportunity to comment in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”);[1] and (3) the Guidance is arbitrary and capricious because it provided inadequate justification for suspending premarket review and did not account for the public health cost of the continued marketing of unreviewed new tobacco products. The NGOs seek to have the Guidance vacated, which could prove disastrous for the vapor industry.

We summarize the NGO’s motion in more detail below.

Background on Premarket Authorization and FDA Compliance Policy for Deemed Tobacco Products

When the “Deeming Rule” became effective on August 8, 2016, the FDA extended its tobacco product authority to previously unregulated categories of products including, but not limited to, e-liquids and vapor products, as well as cigars, hookah, pipe tobacco and heat-not-burn products.[2] Deemed tobacco products are now subject to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”), as amended by the TCA, including, most critically, the requirement that all new tobacco products obtain FDA premarket authorization. A new tobacco product is any product introduced or modified after the February 15, 2007 “grandfather date”. Because there are no known grandfathered e-liquids or vapor products, all such products, including those that have been on the market for years, are required to obtain FDA marketing authorization through the onerous Premarket Tobacco Product Application (“PMTA”) process, which is separately being challenged by the vapor industry.[3]

In the preamble to the Deeming Rule, although it chose not to amend the grandfather date for deemed products, FDA included a “compliance policy” which effectively created marketing grace periods for newly deemed, finished tobacco products that do not have FDA premarket authorization.[4] Pursuant to the compliance policy, manufacturers were permitted to continue marketing e-liquids and vapor products in the U.S. that were on the market on August 8, 2016 until the end of the compliance period, at which time a PMTA would be due. Initially, this compliance period was only 24 months after the effective date of the rule, meaning PMTAs would have been due by August 8, 2018 for all vapor products.[5]

Further, the initial compliance policy created a marketing sunset period that permitted manufacturers of products for which premarket applications were submitted to continue sales for only an additional 12 months, pending FDA review of the applications. After that, if FDA had not yet ruled on an application, it would “consider, on a case-by-case basis, whether to defer enforcement of the premarket authorization requirements for a reasonable time period.”[6]  In other words, companies that submitted PMTAs for vapor products by August 8, 2018 would only be permitted to continue marketing the subject products until August 8, 2019, after which they would have to remove the products from the market while FDA reviewed the applications, no matter how long that would take, unless the Agency granted an exception.

However, in July 2017, FDA announced a new “comprehensive regulatory plan to shift the trajectory of tobacco-related disease, death” that, among other things, extended the premarket application compliance period for non-combustibles, including e-liquids and vapor products, until August 8, 2022. In other words, those products on the market as of August 8, 2016 can now remain on the market at least until August 8, 2022; after that date, only products that are the subject of PMTAs that have been accepted for review can remain on the market. FDA also eliminated the 12-month sunset period, allowing companies to continue marketing products while FDA reviews the PMTAs. FDA formalized the new deadlines in its August 2017 Guidance.

Argument No. 1: The Guidance’s authorization to continue marketing newly-deemed tobacco products without the required FDA marketing order is contrary to the requirements of the TCA.

The NGOs argue first that the Guidance is contrary to the mandates of the TCA.  They emphasize that the TCA directs that an FDA order authorizing a manufacturer to sell a new tobacco product “is required” before that product “may be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce.”[7] Therefore, the NGOs argue, both the Guidance’s extension of PMTA deadlines and its compliance policy effectively grant permission to market new tobacco products before FDA authorizes their sale, contrary to the TCA’s requirements.

The NGOs further note that the TCA requires that, “as promptly as possible, but in no event later than 180 days after receipt of a PMTA,” FDA “shall” issue an order that the new product may or may not be introduced.[8] The NGOs argue that this requirement renders the Guidance’s revised compliance policy unlawful because the policy permits the indefinite sale of new tobacco products without FDA ever having to complete premarket review.

The NGOs also address a defense likely to be invoked by FDA—that of “enforcement discretion,” the principle that, in the absence of statutory text to the contrary, executive agencies prioritize their own obligations, thereby reserving to their discretion the ability to effectively delay enforcement. The NGOs argue that the TCA does not grant FDA discretion to delay and that publishing a new policy that authorizes conduct Congress made unlawful is not within an agency’s enforcement discretion as the term is understood by courts.

Argument No. 2: The Guidance is a “rule” and FDA issued it without providing the public notice and an opportunity to comment in violation of the APA. 

Second, the NGOs contend that the Guidance is effectively a final rule and thus must undergo the procedural requirements of a rule, including the obligation to give the public notice of the proposed rule and an opportunity to make comments.[9]

The NGOs argue that the Guidance is a “rule” within the meaning of the APA because it affects the “rights and obligations” of stakeholders and “constrains the agency’s discretion.”[10] According to the NGOs, the Guidance creates a “right” to market products for several years without a marketing order from FDA and constrains FDA to engage in a premarket review or to bring enforcement actions against manufacturers marketing new products without first obtaining an order. The NGOs dismiss the Guidance’s disclaimer language that it is not “binding” by citing to case law stating that courts look at the “actual function and effect” of guidance over how it labels itself.

Argument No. 3: The Guidance is arbitrary and capricious because it provided inadequate justification for suspending premarket review and did not account for the public health cost of the continued marketing of unreviewed new tobacco products.

Continuing under the premise that the Guidance is a “rule” and thus a “final agency action” as those terms are defined by APA case law, the NGOs argue that the Guidance must be struck down because it is “arbitrary and capricious.”[11] An agency action is arbitrary and capricious under the APA if it is not the product of reasoned agency decision-making.

The NGOs maintain that FDA did not advance an explanation for the Guidance. Agencies must consider factors considered important by Congress when passing the law and other important aspects of the problem addressed by the statute (the TCA in this case).[12] Further, an agency must show that there are good reasons for a change in policy.[13] FDA published a press release before the Guidance explaining industry’s need for more time to comply with PMTA deadlines,[14] but the NGOs allege that the press release’s reasoning is vague and insufficient and therefore not persuasive.

Finally, the NGOs argue that the Guidance’s effect ultimately has a detrimental impact on public health, particularly youth. The NGOs assert that the detrimental effect to public health outweighs any advantage gained by the Guidance’s effects.

Potential Impact on the Vapor Industry

If successful, the NGO’s lawsuit, which paints an unfavorable, and inaccurate, portrait of a vapor industry bent on targeting and addicting minors could have a devasting impact for vapor companies. If the Guidance is vacated, for example, and the original compliance policy reinstated, vapor products without grandfathered status or premarket authorization, of which there are none, may have to be immediately removed from the market. This would not only be potentially devasting to the public health, as millions of vapers may go back to smoking cigarettes, but it would also put thousands of small companies out of business.

The case has been assigned to Judge Paul Grimm of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. FDA’s response to the motion is due August 7, 2018. We will continue to monitor the progress of this lawsuit and will provide a summary of FDA’s response.

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[1] 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq.; 5 U.S.C. § 553.

[2] Deeming Tobacco Products to be Subject to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, as Amended by the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act; Restrictions on the Sale and Distribution of Tobacco Products and Required Warning Statements for Tobacco Products, 81 Fed. Reg. 28,974 (May 10, 2016).

[3] Alternative premarket authorization pathways exist through submission of Substantial Equivalence (“SE”) Reports and SE Exemption Requests, but those pathways require reference to a grandfathered or predicate tobacco product, and thus are not available for the e-liquids and vapor products.

[4] 81 Fed. Reg. at 28,978.

[5] 81 Fed. Reg. at 28,978.

[6] 81 Fed. Reg. at 28,978.

[7] 21 U.S.C. §§ 387j(a)(2), (c)(1)(A)(i).

[8] 21 U.S.C. § 387j(c)(1)(A).

[9] N.C. Growers’ Ass’n, Inc. v. UFW, 702 F.3d 755, 764 (4th Cir. 2012).

[10] Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281, 302 (1979) (internal quotation omitted); McLouth Steel Prods. Corp. v. Thomas, 838 F.2d 1317, 1320 (D.C. Cir. 1988).

[11] 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(A).

[12] Motor Vehicle Mfrs. Ass’n of US., Inc. v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 463 U.S. 29, 43 (1983).

[13] FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc., 556 U.S. 502, 515 (2009).

[14] FDA News Release, “Protecting American Families: Comprehensive Approach to Nicotine and Tobacco,” https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Speeches/ucm569024.htm (July 18, 2017) (last accessed: 08/02/18).

Photo of Azim Chowdhury

On June 18, 2018, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb delivered remarks on “FDA’s Nicotine and Tobacco Regulation and the Key Role of Regulatory Science” at the Tobacco Regulatory Science Program Meeting.[1] While addressing the importance of regulatory science to inform FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) regulatory efforts, Commissioner Gottlieb focused a portion of his remarks on the use of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) as tobacco harm reduction or smoking cessation tools and FDA’s role in their regulation.

“Preservation of E-Cigarettes”

According to Commissioner Gottlieb, utilizing scientific evidence and supporting new research to inform tobacco regulatory actions that protect public health is one of the primary missions of FDA’s CTP. Utilizing regulatory science to better understand e-cigarettes, Commissioner Gottlieb confirmed again that not all tobacco products are equally harmful, but that a “continuum of risk” exists, stating, “[w]e believe in the concept of a continuum of risk related to tobacco products, and we believe there is a role for modified risk products. Further, we want to preserve e-cigs as one among a number of possible options for adult smokers and believe that fully transitioning smokers to ENDS can reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with tobacco use.” Preservation of e-cigs as a possible option for adult smokers entails better understanding “the potential benefits of electronic nicotine products as smoking cessation tools.”

In his remarks, the Commissioner highlighted a recent report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), entitled “Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes.” You can read a summary of that report in a previous blog post here. Commissioned by FDA, the report makes clear, among other things, the reduced harm of e-cigarettes compared to smoking cigarettes and that completely switching from regular use of combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes results in reduced short-term adverse health outcomes in several organ systems.[2]

Acknowledging those findings, Commissioner Gottlieb noted, “[p]otentially less harmful products – including the wide diversity of ENDS and other novel tobacco products – must be put through an appropriate series of regulatory gates to fully evaluate their risks and maximize their potential benefits.”

The Commissioner’s praise of vapor products as a potential reduced harm alternative for smokers, however, apparently does not apply to adolescents, for whom FDA maintains there is never a good reason to use any tobacco product, reduced harm or not – a position that has been criticized in some public health circles.

“Appropriate Series of Regulatory Gates” in the Context of the Deeming Rule Appeal

The Commissioner’s remarks on e-cigarettes were delivered in the midst of a lawsuit filed by Nicopure Labs, LLC and the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition (appellants) challenging aspects of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) and FDA’s Deeming Rule now pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This blog has been closely following the litigation, previously summarizing Appellants’ opening brief, as well as FDA’s brief and appellants reply brief. A list of all briefs can be found at the end of this blog post.

The Commissioner’s June 18 remarks, acknowledging the benefits of e-cigarettes as tools for adult smoking cessation, follow previous statements by Commissioner Gottlieb, the agency itself, the American Cancer Society (ACS), and an FDA-commissioned report acknowledging the lower risk associated with e-cigarettes in comparison to combustible tobacco and e-cigarettes’ potential public health benefits. As set forth at the outset of appellants’ final reply brief in the Deeming Rule appeal, those statements and findings include:

  • FDA stated numerous times during the rulemaking that vapor products are less harmful than traditional cigarettes.[3]
  • In announcing its Comprehensive Plan for regulating tobacco and nicotine, FDA recognized it must “strik[e] an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than cigarettes.”[4]
  • FDA Commissioner Gottlieb and Mitch Zeller, Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine that vapor products, when combined with measures to reduce nicotine levels in cigarettes, “represent[] a promising foundation for a comprehensive approach to tobacco harm reduction.”[5]
  • One of FDA’s supporting amici, the ACS, recently determined, “[b]ased on currently available evidence, using current generation e-cigarettes is less harmful than smoking cigarettes,” and concluded “switching to the exclusive use of e-cigarettes is preferable to continuing to smoke combustible products.”[6]
  • A recent NAS report commissioned by FDA, which the Commissioner mentioned in his June 18 remarks, confirms vaping is less risky than smoking.  The report, which is based on a review of over 800 articles, found: (i) conclusive evidence that completely substituting vaping with smoking reduces exposure to numerous toxicants and carcinogens; (ii) current evidence shows vapor products are less harmful than cigarettes; (iii) substituting vaping for smoking significantly reduces levels of biomarkers of exposure to toxicants; and (iv) vaping exclusively might be useful as a cessation aid in smokers.”[7]

Despite these recent statements, FDA continues to take a hard line in the pending appeal, where the agency argues: (1) the Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) provision in Section 911 of the TCA does not violate the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution; (2) the free sample ban is a “price regulation,” so it is not subject to First Amendment protections; and (3) the Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) process was statutorily required and did not authorize nor require FDA to modify those requirements for vapor products. Each of these positions, as explained by appellants in the appeal, work against promoting continuum of risk and achieving risk reduction:

  1. Modified Risk Tobacco Product (MRTP) Claims: FDA’s defense of the MRTP provision will ultimately prevent vapor companies from making truthful statements and conveying information that would help adult consumers make informed decisions regarding vaping. As set out in appellants’ briefs, the incredibly onerous and expensive MRTP authorization process, which no company has been able to achieve yet, is ultimately a restriction on the First Amendment rights of consumers in the marketplace to obtain product-related information so they can make educated decisions.
  2. Free Sample Ban: Similarly, FDA downplays free samples as a mere “price regulation,” which are not subject to First Amendment challenge. To the contrary, and as demonstrated by appellants in their briefs, free samples allow manufacturers to pass on product information that adult consumers demand when contemplating a switch from more harmful cigarettes, and are thus protected under the First Amendment.
  3. The Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA): FDA’s one-size-fits-all PMTA process for vapor products, which involves satisfying all pre-market review requirements for less risky vapor products, will also force the vast majority of vapor companies and less harmful vapor products out of the market absent some tailoring of certain requirements.

Oral arguments in the Deeming Rule appeal have been scheduled for September 11, 2018 before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Links to all appeal briefs:

  • February 12, 2018: Appellants Nicopure and Right to be Smoke-Free file opening brief
  • February 20, 2018: Amicus briefs in support of appellants filed by: Washington Legal Foundation, NJOY, State of Iowa and CASAA
  • May 2, 2018: Appellee FDA’s brief filed
  • May 9, 2018: Amicus briefs in support of FDA filed by: Public Citizen, Yale Law School Scholars, Public Health Law Center, and various public health groups (American Academy of Pediatrics, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Thoracic Society, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and Truth Initiative)
  • May 16, 2018: Appellants Nicopure and Right to be Smoke-Free file reply brief
  • June 5, 2018: Appellee FDA files a final copy of its opening brief with updated citations to the administrative record
  • June 6, 2018: Appellants Nicopure and Right to Smoke-Free file final copies of their opening and reply briefs with updated citations to the administrative record

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.

[1] Gottlieb, S. (2018, June 18). FDA’s Nicotine and Tobacco Regulation and the Key Role of Regulatory Science. Speech presented at Tobacco Regulatory Science Program Meeting, White Oak, MD. Available at https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Speeches/ucm611033.htm.

[2] National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine: Committee on the Review of the Health Effects of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, The Public Health Consequences of E-Cigarettes (eds. Kathleen Stratton et al., 2018), available at https://tinyurl.com/ya4w37kb.

[3] Opening brief of appellants at 7. Available at Gottlieb, S. (2018, June 18). FDA’s Nicotine and Tobacco Regulation and the Key Role of Regulatory Science. Speech presented at Tobacco Regulatory Science Program Meeting, White Oak, MD. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Speeches/ucm611033.htm.

[4] FDA News Release, FDA Announces Comprehensive Regulatory Plan to Shift Trajectory of Tobacco-Related Disease, Death (July 28, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/y7bybf6c.

[5] Scott Gottlieb, et al., Perspective: A Nicotine-Focused Framework for Public Health, New Eng. J. Med. (Sept. 21, 2017), https://tinyurl.com/yatrpq68.

[6] ACS, Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes (Feb. 15, 2018),  https://tinyurl.com/ybadn9cl; see also a summary of ACS’s most recent position statement in a previous blog post, available at https://www.thecontinuumofrisk.com/2018/06/american-cancer-society-acknowledges-reduced-harm-electronic-nicotine-delivery-systems-warns-dangers-misleading-consumers/.

[7] NAS, PUBLIC HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF E-CIGARETTES, at S-9, 18-2, 18-13, 1823, https://tinyurl.com/ycxlymgf.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Benjamin Wolf

 

 

Tobacco product manufacturing establishments in the United States must register with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) immediately upon beginning manufacturing operations (e.g., the manufacture, preparation, compounding, or processing of a tobacco product).  As part of the registration process, establishment operators must submit a detailed list of products manufactured at the establishment, along with copies of all labeling (see our full summary of the registration requirement here).  This registration must be renewed annually before midnight on December 31 (Eastern time) every year, and product lists must be updated bi-annually: by midnight June 30 and December 31 every year.

This means that operators of manufacturing establishments of newly deemed products (e.g., vapor, cigars, hookah, etc.) on the market as of August 8, 2016 that have made changes to their product offerings must update their product lists with FDA by tomorrow, June 30, 2018, or as soon as possible to avoid FDA enforcement (considering the likelihood that FURLS may crash, the sooner you start this process, the better). Specific examples of changes that need to be updated (in FURLS, if you used that system to register online) include (1) discontinuing products on your product list that you are no longer actively manufacturing, (2) adding new products that are now being manufactured (e.g., co-packers now manufacturing pre-August 8, 2016 products that were not on the co-packers’ initial product list), (3) adding a new manufacturing location for products already listed by another establishment, or (4) labeling changes (including rebranding) of existing products.

Note that if you are planning to update your labels to comply with FDA’s nicotine addiction warning and other labeling requirements (that go into effect on August 10, 2018) after June 30, you have until December 31, 2018 to update your product listing with the revised labels.

If you have any questions about Registration and Product Listing or any of the other Tobacco and Control Act requirements, contact Azim Chowdhury (202.434.4230, chowdhury@khlaw.com) or Ben Wolf (202.434.4103, wolf@khlaw.com). For more information on our Tobacco and E-vapor Practice in general, visit www.khlaw.com/evapor. Follow Keller and Heckman Tobacco and E-Vapor Partner Azim Chowdhury on Twitter.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Eric Gotting

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.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Benjamin Wolf

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.

Photo of Azim ChowdhuryPhoto of Adam Susser

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.