President Trump just might save vaping


Could the new Trump administration save the vaping industry from its fears of being regulated into oblivion by the Food and Drug Administration? Gregory Conley, a top vaping spokesman, says it might happen.

Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, said the signs continue to point to favorable treatment for vaping by the administration. But nothing definite has been announced.

It may be too early to look for such an announcement, Conley said, because Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s nominee to lead the FDA, hasn’t yet been confirmed.

Last year, the Obama administration FDA announced it would deem all e-cigarettes to be tobacco products, thereby falling under its jurisdiction. The FDA says it wants to help people avoid becoming addicted to tobacco and the diseases tobacco consumption can cause.

However, e-cigarette juices do not contain tobacco and many do not even contain nicotine. And the vaping industry says e-cigarettes are a good way to quit smoking — a hotly debated point among researchers and public health officials.

The FDA has announced retroactive regulation of all e-cigarette products introduced since Feb. 15, 2007, which includes virtually everything being sold today.

Smaller e-cigarette manufacturers and suppliers have said the cost of compliance, estimated at about $300,000 per product, would drive them out of business, leaving only the big tobacco companies, who can afford the expense. The regulations take final effect on Aug. 8, 2018, unless the Trump administration decides otherwise.

Both Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services; and Gottlieb, the FDA director nominee, have taken stands that appear sympathetic to the vaping industry, Conley said. So prospects look hopeful that the vaping restrictions will be stopped.

Even if the restrictions aren’t overturned, vaping products may not vanish entirely, since the big tobacco makers will be able to afford to comply with them.

But Conley said the smaller to medium-sized companies, who specialize in vaping and have driven innovation, will be gone.

Big tobacco companies probably will benefit from the FDA approval process, a tobacco industry analyst said in a research note last year.

“In many cases, the associated costs with this application will likely cause many e-cigarette manufacturers to close shop over the next several years, boosting long-run market share for Altria, Reynolds, and other large organizations that have both the financial wherewithal and regulatory experience to navigate this process,” wrote Adam Fleck of Morningstar.

President Trump himself hasn’t said anything about where he stands on electronic cigarettes, Conley said.

“When you’re dealing with presidential politics, you don’t need to influence the man at the top, when that man has not taken a position on your issue,” Conley said. “You need to make other people in the administration know that it is important, and good things can result.”

Price hasn’t said anything on vaping, but he voted no on the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, Conley said. That is the law Congress passed giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products.

“He had the foresight to see this was going to be bad news in some capacity,” Conley said. “His pick for FDA commissioner has brought some optimism. Scott Gottlieb worked for the FDA under George W. Bush, and has been a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has always taken a pro-vaping stance.”

“Mr. Gottlieb believes in some things in the drug world that have interesting parallels to the vaping world. There is reason for optimism, especially compared to what you’ve looked at over the past 7-8 years with the FDA.”

Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced in Congress that, among other things, would move up the start date for the retroactive regulation, the predicate date, from 2007 to a more recent year. This is tied to the budget bill now under consideration.

With the final deadline for compliance looming next year, some vaping companies have already gone out of business.

“There was a great company, ProVape, that was manufacturing devices in the state of Washington. They’re gone now. They saw the writing on the wall in terms of American manufacturing of these products, and were not confident enough to stick around,” Conley said.