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On September 6, 2018, a coalition of vapor industry trade associations and businesses – specifically the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA), the American Vapor Association (AVA), and SV3, LLC (collectively, the “Vapor Coalition”) – submitted comments to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) arguing against the Trump Administration’s additional proposed tariffs that would apply to certain vapor products imported from China (see Docket No. USTR-2018-0026).

The Vapor Coalition’s comments strenuously oppose the tariffs, and describe in detail the potentially disastrous economic and public health consequences that would result if the tariffs are imposed.  The comment also describes how FDA’s current regulatory framework makes it effectively impossible for American companies to now start manufacturing vapor devices domestically – forcing U.S. businesses to rely on Chinese manufactured products.

At issue in this docket is the “Third Tranche” of tariffs proposed by the Trump Administration which apply to a number of Harmonized Tariff Schedule (HTS) codes used to import a variety of vapor products and components, parts and accessories from China:

HTS Code Product Description
8543.90.88.50 Personal electric or electronic vaporizing devices with substances containing nicotine.
8543.90.88.60 Other personal electric or electronic vaporizing devices.
2403.19.20.20 Mixture containing tobacco mixed with glycerol or other ingredients
2905.31.00.00 Ethylene Glycol (without nicotine or flavoring added)
2905.32.00.00 Propylene Glycol (without nicotine or flavoring added)
3824.99.92.80 Mixtures of a kind containing nicotine used in personal electric or electronic vaporizing devices
3923.30.00.00 Carboys, bottles, flasks and similar articles for the conveyance or packing of goods, of plastics.
8504.40.95.80 USB Charger
4202.92.00.00 Product with outer surface of sheeting of plastics or of textile materials
4819.20.00.00 Folding cartons, boxes and cases of non-corrugated paper or paperboard.
4821.10.00.00 Printed paper and paperboard labels of all kinds
8506.10.00 Manganese dioxide primary cells and primary batteries
8506.30.10 Mercuric oxide primary cells and primary batteries having an external volume not exceeding 300 cubic cm.
8506.80.00 Primary cells and primary batteries, nesoi.
8507.40.80 Nickel-iron storage batteries, other than of a kind used as the primary source of power for electric vehicles.
8507.50.00 Nickel-metal hydride batteries.

The USTR has already imposed tariffs on vapor products imported under HTS subheading 8543.70.99 including, in particular, 8543.70.99.30, 8543.70.99.40, and 8543.70.99.90 (Final Second Tranche, August 7, 2018).[1]  Although not the subject of this docket, the Vapor Coalition noted its opposition to such action and urged the USTR to reconsider and remove these subheadings from its Final Second Tranche.

You can download the Vapor Coalition’s comments to the USTR here.

________________________________________

[1] See USTR Finalizes Second Tranche of Tariffs on Chinese Products in Response to China’s Unfair Trade Practices, available at: https://ustr.gov/about-us/policy-offices/press-office/press-releases/2018/august/ustr-finalizes-second-tranche.

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In a widely anticipated move, FDA has significantly increased the frequency of inspections of vapor manufacturing and retail facilities over the past few weeks, with some inspections spanning two days. We have received reports from vapor businesses across the country that they are receiving unannounced visits from FDA investigators conducting biannual inspections pursuant to Sections 704 and 905 of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act as amended by the Tobacco Control Act. Under the Act, FDA is required to inspect every tobacco manufacturing facility at least once every two years. FDA uses a broad definition of manufacturing – repacking and relabeling are considered manufacturing acts and retailers that mix e-liquids for consumer sale are considered manufacturers.

During the course of their inspection, FDA investigators have requested product samples, labeling and invoices for raw materials, and labeling and invoices for finished goods. We understand that inspections have included both production (cleanroom) and non-production areas and have made use of photography and recordings. FDA appears also to be doing a lot of “fact finding” – learning as much as they can about the industry and how these products are manufactured and distributed, potentially for use in the development of future guidance documents and rulemakings.

We have also received reports of inspectors visiting vapor businesses from other agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), federal and state Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA), as well as state inspectors (e.g., California Department of Tax and Fee Administration).

As FDA continues to visit facilities across the country, it is critical that manufacturers, including retailer-manufacturers, understand the types of information that they are required to provide to the Agency upon request, as well as the type of that information that can or should be withheld. Similarly, Companies should understand the scope of authority that an FDA Investigator has in asking for specific product details. Vapor product manufacturers should fully prepare for their impending inspection now, so that they can demonstrate a high-degree of confidence when FDA arrives. Critically, and as third-party consultants begin to enter the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) space, manufacturers and retailer-manufacturers should ensure that the guidance they receive from outside counsel is accurate and based on experience in sound science and law and is protected from disclosure to FDA by attorney-client privilege.

Audit and Inspection Program Completes Coast-to-Coast Site Visits in First Half of 2018

Keller and Heckman’s Audit and Inspection Program (AIP) provides companies that are involved in any aspect of the tobacco or vapor product supply chain with assurance that their facilities are operating in accordance with FDA requirements. AIP Program attorneys have completed audits from Florida to California since the Program first began in early 2018, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive:

Having your team run a thorough inspection was extremely helpful in preparing us for a “real” FDA inspection. The knowledge and insight you guys were able to provide my “Team Awesome” will certainly help us navigate through the regulations and future inspections. During this interesting time for the industry, and as a responsible manufacturer, we must do everything possible to ensure we are going above and beyond what potential GMP’s may be down the road to keep consumers and the industry’s reputation safe.

As “cool” as some people think it is to be a manufacturer in the vape industry, it’s not to be taken lightly. We try to do everything possible to provide our consumers and retailers with top quality products that are manufactured in a clean and safe environment. Having your team come in to review our facility and manufacturing practices gives us confidence that we are doing exactly what we have set out to accomplish!

The AIP Program includes both audit and training components from attorneys experienced in tobacco and vapor law, inspections, and good manufacturing practices, and addresses 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.

Audits by the AIP Program staff are covered by attorney-client privilege and attorney work-product privilege.

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

Space is limited, and scheduling is generally available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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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 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.

____________________________________________________________________

[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).

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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 Chowdhury

On June 11, 2018, the American Cancer Society (“ACS”) released a statement entitled, “The American Cancer Society Public Health Statement on Eliminating Combustible Tobacco Use in the United States’ (“Statement”).[1] The Statement sets forth the ACS’s goal of eliminating exposure to combustible tobacco smoke and provides three strategies for the ACS to enhance its approach in tobacco prevention and control.

This Statement follows its earlier “Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes,” released on February 15, 2018, which acknowledged, for the first time, that e-cigarettes, also known as Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), play an important role in helping certain smokers quit.[2] In that prior position, ACS suggested that physicians should encourage individuals that will not use FDA-approved cessation medicines to switch to using ENDS.[3] This latest Statement takes that position further, as the ACS commits to joining in on efforts to better understand how or whether ENDS might be integrated into evidence-based cessation options, and the organization also warns about the misinformation given to consumers about those products.

 “Rapidly Changing Tobacco Marketplace” and the Consumer Misperception about ENDS

The ACS’s stated highest priority is to eliminate cancer caused by tobacco use as cigarette smoking is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S.[4] Placing its Statement in the context of what is calls, “the rapidly changing tobacco marketplace today,” the ACS acknowledges that tobacco control has increasingly become a social justice issue, as the percentage of smokers at the greatest risk (e.g. because of their low socioeconomic status, lower educational attainment, etc.) has risen markedly.[5]

Given today’s landscape, the Statement highlights the need for consumers to receive accurate information about different tobacco products and the role that nicotine plays in disease.[6] Citing numerous studies and reports, the Statement posits that although the “current generation ENDS are markedly less harmful than combustible tobacco products,”[7] “[m]any adults believe, erroneously, that ENDS are as harmful as combustible tobacco products, and the level of public understanding has deteriorated overtime.”[8] The Statements cites the Monitoring the Future study, which reported that as of 2017, “e-cigarettes have one of the lowest levels of perceived risk for regular use of all drugs, including alcohol,” among adolescents.[9] And to contrast e-cigarette use with combustible (burned) tobacco products, the Statement notes that while ENDS delivers nicotine, flavor additives and other chemicals, they do not actually burn tobacco – a process that yields an estimated 7000 chemicals, including at least 70 carcinogens.[10]

Three Strategies to Eliminate All Combustible Tobacco Use: Lending Support to Further Utilizing ENDS for Tobacco Cessation

The Statement outlines three separate strategies to eliminate all combustible tobacco use-all of which involve some component linked to ENDS.

  • Promote Increased Access and Utilization of Cessation Options for Smokers, With an Emphasis on Preventing Dual Use

As part of its first strategic effort, the ACS will work to promote tobacco-cessation strategies and develop health care provider and consumer-facing materials with information on the risks associated with tobacco products and cessation treatment options.[11] As a part of this communications strategy, the ACS notes that it intends to communicate to consumers that current-generation ENDS are less harmful than combustible tobacco products, and it provides that the ACS will contribute to research to determine how or whether ENDS might be integrated into evidence-based cessation options.[12]

  • Prevent Initiation of ENDS by Youth and Other High-Risk Demographic Groups

Despite noting the lesser risks associated with ENDS relative to combustible tobacco use, the Statement still holds that protecting youth from cigarette smoking and the use of novel tobacco products remains a priority.[13] The ACS will advocate for tobacco-free policies, including ENDS in all cases, as well as for policies to raise the minimum age for sale of all tobacco products, including ENDS.[14] The ACS makes clear that it will continue to oppose what it calls, “the widespread exposure of youth to e-cigarette advertising.”[15]

  • Promote and Support a Comprehensive Tobacco and Nicotine Regulatory Framework

As part of its broader regulatory strategy, the Statement describes a “continuum of risk” for tobacco products, noting that while science is mixed, ENDS are likely to be much less harmful that combustible tobacco products.[16] Among other proposals, the Statement again commits to conduct further scientific research, including research related to the short-term and long-term risks of using ENDS and the impact of ENDS on tobacco use behavior.[17]

Conclusion

Taking its February 15, 2018 statement on electronic cigarettes one step further, this latest announcement by the ACS makes clear that the organization intends to contribute to further research on whether e-cigarettes may be utilized for tobacco cessation strategies. However, the ACS continues to advocate for tobacco-free policies, which include the use of ENDS, and the organization remains concerned about preventing youth initiation of ENDS, which has fallen dramatically since 2015, along with all tobacco use.

[1] The American Cancer Society Public Health Statement on Eliminating Combustible Tobacco Use in the United States (Clifford E. Douglas, et al., 2018) available at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21455 (hereinafter, referred to as the “Statement”).

[2] American Cancer Society Position Statement on Electronic Cigarettes (2018) available at https://www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/e-cigarette-position-statement.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Statement, supra n.1. at 1.

[5] Id., supra n.1. at 5.

[6] Id., supra n.1. at 2.

[7] Id., supra n.1. at 4.

[8] Id., supra n.1. at 1.

[9] Johnston LD, Miech RA, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE, Patrick ME. Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975‐2017. Overview, Key Findings on Adolescent Drug Use. Ann Arbor, MI: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan; 2018. monitoringthefuture.org/pubs/monographs/mtf‐overview2017.pdf.

[10] Id., supra n.1. at 1.

[11] Id., supra n.1. at 2-3.

[12] Id., supra n.1. at 3.

[13] Id., supra n.1. at 3.

[14] Id., supra n.1. at 4.

[15] Id., supra n.1. at 4.

[16] Id., supra n.1. at 4.

[17] Id., supra n.1. at 5.

Photo of Azim Chowdhury

 

 

The 3rd Annual Keller and Heckman E-Vapor and Tobacco Law Symposium will be held on January 29th-30th, 2019.

Registration for this program will be launching in late September 2018. 

Seminar Details
Dates:
January 29 – January 30, 2019

Location:
Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay 

Price:
$899 early rate
$1,099 regular rate

More information on speakers and a final agenda will be available soon. We look forward to seeing you at the program!

Take a look at highlights from this year’s conference:

For additional information, please contact:

Caryn Wick
Marketing Director
Keller and Heckman LLP
wick@khlaw.com

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.