E-cigarette industry gains allies in regulation fight
WASHINGTON — The electronic cigarette industry and its free-market allies are seeing fresh opportunities to ease federal rules on e-cigarettes as Congress races to pass a government spending bill this week and President Trump fills key public-health posts in his administration.
More than a dozen conservative groups wrote to congressional leaders this week, calling on them to add a pro-vaping provision to a spending measure that must pass by midnight Friday to avert a government shutdown. If successful, the measure would be the latest sign of the $4.4 billion vaping industry’s growing clout in Washington.
The provision favored by the industry was introduced by Reps. Tom Cole, R-Okla., and Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., and would exempt thousands of vaping products on the market from Food and Drug Administration approval. A rule issued last year by the Obama administration “deems” e-cigarettes to be tobacco products and allows the FDA to retroactively examine all tobacco products on the market in February 2007.
The e-cigarette industry was virtually non-existent before then, and industry advocates say the costly FDA approval process would force most e-cigarette companies to shut down.
Some public-health advocates counter that the agency’s review under the so-called “deeming rule” would allow regulators to guarantee the safety of electronic cigarettes and the nicotine-infused liquid they use in their products. Representatives from 51 groups, including the American Lung Association and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, have asked congressional appropriators to retain the FDA rule.
The potential for the Cole-Bishop provision to become law comes as Trump himself moves to slash Obama-era regulations and the Senate weighs his pick to run the FDA, Scott Gottlieb.
Gottlieb, a physician and former FDA official, served on the board of an e-cigarette retailer. He also has a financial stake in the company and has pledged to sell off that holding if confirmed by the Senate. During a recent confirmation hearing, Gottlieb said “reduced harm products,” such as e-cigarettes, should be available “to consumers to transition them off combustible cigarettes.”
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on Gottlieb’s nomination.
Keith Nelson of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association said he “is greatly encouraged” by Trump’s moves to reduce regulations across the government and supports Gottlieb’s approach to vaping regulation.
“We want this to be dominated by reason and sound science, not public-health hysteria,” he said.
Grover Norquist, the head of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, has become a vocal advocate for e-cigarette producers and consumers and this week praised Gottlieb as “somebody who won’t try to kill vaping, who actually cares about health.”
Norquist also voiced approval of another recent personnel decision by Trump: the president’s ouster last week of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, an Obama holdover. Late last year, Murthy issued a report calling e-cigarette use among young people “a major public health concern.”
Norquist helped organize a petition drive calling for Murthy’s firing and called his removal a “delightful thing” in an interview with USA Today.
Norquist said he didn’t know whether his lobbying played a role in Murthy’s departure. “It’s possible,” he said.
Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Theresa at 412-380-5669, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .