Next week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to decide the fate of whether or not to permit a significant number of tobacco-harm reduction products, such as vapes, flavor cartridges, and e-cigarettes, to remain on the market. Depending on their decision, as many as two million products could be at risk of being pulled from shelves nationwide, according to the Washington Post. If the FDA rules on September 9th that these products are no longer eligible for sale, it would be a devastating setback to the measurable public health developments that have helped millions of tobacco users transition away from cigarettes towards less harmful alternatives. NTU urges the FDA to follow the scientific evidence and not substantially change the current tobacco-harm reduction landscape.
As readers of NTU’s work on nicotine tax and regulatory issues know, we strongly believe that the widespread availability of tobacco-harm reduction products has been the most effective cigarette cessation tool ever developed. For decades, millions of Americans tried unsuccessfully to kick their addiction to cigarettes, but thanks in large part to technology developed by the free market, smoking cessation products like vaping have offered millions of Americans a viable alternative to traditional tobacco. For years, government officials have taken steps to reduce the prevalence of tobacco usage, and the free market has produced a solution to address this serious problem.
In fact, a landmark 2019 New England Journal of Medicine study documents that smoking cessation is two times more likely to occur in those who used e-cigarettes as compared to individuals using other nicotine replacement products. Additionally, there is a consensus in the United Kingdom among academics, scientists, and the medical community that reduced-risk tobacco alternatives such as e-cigarettes are significantly less harmful than combustible cigarettes. According to groundbreaking research by Public Health England and the Royal College of Physicians, vaping is up to 95 percent less harmful than regular combustible tobacco. Moreover, Public Health England recommends smokers switch to vaping, and the American Cancer Society concludes that, based on current available information, vaping is less harmful than smoking.
While not completely safe, vapor products —which do contain nicotine but not the chemicals and carcinogens found in traditional cigarettes— are a viable alternative to cigarettes.
Despite the overwhelming evidence, the FDA has consistently discounted the benefits of tobacco-harm reduction products, and at best, has an uneven relationship with these products. On one hand, they have approved many innovations that are less harmful than cigarettes, such as e-cigarettes, vapor products, and heat-not-burn products that have moved so many people towards less harmful tobacco alternatives. Yet, at the same time, in recent years they have pursued banning e-cigarette flavors, liquid vapor cartridges, and other products despite a lack of scientific support.
Unfortunately, if last week is any indication of what’s to come, it does not bode well for American businesses and vape users. That’s because the FDA ruled three manufacturers must pull 55,000 existing or planned flavored products from the market, or risk enforcement. According to the Washington Post, “regulators said the companies’ applications failed to provide ‘sufficient evidence’ that their products provide a net public health benefit for adult smokers compared with the ‘threat posed by the well-documented, alarming levels of youth use’ of flavored vapes.” While all public health measures should be weighed between the costs and benefits, banning flavored products won’t stop young adults from vaping, as it is already against the law for individuals under the age of 21 to use nicotine products. Since most smokers transition first to flavored products, it will hurt those individuals the most.
Further, if the FDA implements a wide-scale crackdown on vape products it will harm small businesses and consumers, not just the “big tobacco” companies. As a result, businesses will have fewer products to sell, potentially impacting profitability, and consumers will have fewer options to help them transition. It will only make it harder for people to transition away from cigarettes, not easier.
While we have to wait another week to actually see what the FDA does, all taxpayers and proponents of limited government should be concerned about potential overreach. NTU looks forward to reviewing the specifics of how the FDA rules and commenting on ways to ensure the interests of consumers, businesses, and of course taxpayers, are best protected.