FDA vaping probe ends today amid accusations of fake anti-vaping posts

July 16 is the drop-dead date for the FDA probe soliciting public commentary on a possible federal ban on flavored e-liquids and tobacco products.  Strangely, just before the July 4 weekend, the government website responsible for processing these electronic submissions reportedly received a whopping 255,000 entries within just a matter of hours.  This sudden uptick in online activity nearly brought the website to its knees.

The FBI was immediately notified, and an investigation is now in the works.   According to Brett Stafford of Regulator Watch, certain characteristics of the bogus submissions may indicate that the notoriously anti-vaping group the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids may be behind the attack.

“Last month, over 250,000 suspicious submissions swamped federal servers in just a little over two days, and Reg Watch can report that nearly all of these suspect submissions appear to be anti-flavors or anti-vaping in nature.  It’s a disruption campaign of the highest order, one that could bring down the consultation process and take vaping with it.”

Related Article: FDA Chief extends flavor ban probe by 30-days amid crushing defeat of Prop E

Stafford also discusses that the vaping industry has been getting a lot of bad press lately from mainstream media and even at the ballot box.  He references the passage of Proposition E last month in San Francisco banning the sales of flavored e-liquids and tobacco products in the bay area.  The FDA probe located on FederalResister.gov may be vapers’ last hope to gain political support by a Trump Administration allegedly mired in conflict and corruption.

Did the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids secretly span the FDA probe?

Overseen by the FDA’s Division of Dockets Management, the FBI has traced the over one quarter-million fake comments back to only four IP addresses.  In a video posted by Regulator Watch, host Brent Stafford claims that a “massive 427,000 comments” in total were received at the time of the recording.  According to his sources, approximately “60 percent of received comments are spam submissions and (identified as) anti-vaping.”   

“According to the docket manager, sometime around close of business on Friday, June 8, an unknown actor or actors launched a computer script or ‘bot’ designed to individually enter on mass thousands of comments into the official record via a web form available to the public on Regulations.gov.  The bot reached full throttle, entering 255,000 comments, before technical staff could isolate the four offending IP addresses and cut off the flow – which they did the following Monday, June 11.”

Stafford’s sources also claim that the fake comments are “currently under investigation” by the FBI and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products.  No decision has yet been made as to whether the FDA will accept the bogus submissions.   So, what makes these submissions so obviously fake and highly suspicious? 

  • None of the 255,000 comments contained first or last names.
  • Each of the fake comments came from one of four IP addresses.
  • There were four specific variants of language used in each of the quarter-million submissions, which is virtually impossible had the submissions come from individual people.
  • Oddly, this same verbiage shows up in an April 18, 2018 letter to the FDA from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK).
  • Regulator Watch also reports that all comments contained certain identifying markers located in the “organization” data fields which seem to reference back to CTFD.

The investigation of these 255,000 emails is taking a toll on government staffers.  Apparently, the opening of a single electronic submission takes approximately twenty minutes.  Multiply that number by 255,000, and the amount of associated manpower alone is staggering.

Related Article:  FDA Chief delivers cryptic warning to vaping to ‘step up and step up soon’

Since the FDA is required by law to review each and every electronic submission before officially publishing comments, the vaping community might be waiting a very long time to learn the status of a possible flavor ban in America.  For example, Stafford states that prior to the spamming event, docket managers were processing between 1000-3000 submissions per week.  After the attack, only 116 were processed for the week ending on June 16.  By the holiday weekend, zero comments had been published weekly.

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