White House official: FDA regulation of tobacco & vaping is ‘huge waste of time’

When President Trump first announced his intentions to ban flavored vaping products nationwide, the pushback was immediate and aggressive.  Republicans traditionally abhor nanny state regulations that mandate which products Americans should or should not use.  This affinity for smaller government is the very cornerstone of the party, which is partially why multiple GOP officials were instantly unhappy with the president’s opening of this proverbial can of worms.

Almost immediately, vaping advocacy groups began threatening that a federal ban on vaping was going to prove costly for Trump in his 2020 re-election efforts.  Furthermore, several state governors – most of them Democrats – saw Trump’s announcement as an opportunity to implement their own statewide vape bans through individual executive orders.

These gubernatorial actions led thousands of vape shop owners to forcefully revolt by taking their issues to the relative state courts in quick order.   In case after case, state judges sided with the vape shops, often citing that statewide flavor bans would pose irreparable harm to adult vapers and small businesses alike, even convenience stores and gas stations.    

Related Article:   Fox’s Judge Napolitano: Trump vaping ban is an ‘affront to personal freedom’

These court rulings in New York, Michigan, Utah, and elsewhere seem to be causing Trump to rethink his initial intentions to ban flavored vapes.  For example, in a recent statement on the White House lawn, the president appeared to be waffling by telling reporters that “jobs” are now an important consideration.  He also said that he’s considering raising the legal vaping age to “21 or so.”  

"We're talking about the age, we're talking about flavors, we're also talking about keeping people working, and there's some pretty good aspects. We’re coming out, we're very close to a final report, and we'll be giving it next week."

Meanwhile, Americans have been clamoring for decades that prescription drug prices are soaring, which the FDA controls and Trump promised to address during his 2016 presidential bid.  Vaping advocacy groups have been consistently outraged by an unending stream of FDA policies and public statements that they say appear to be favoring Big Tobacco over e-cigarettes.  They are also growing increasingly annoyed that the FDA refuses to acknowledge 2015 research published by the UK’s equivalent agency, Public Health England, that claims that vaping is 95 percent less harmful than smoking.

Related Article:   Trump may be rethinking his ban on flavored vapes, says campaign chairman

To make the situation even more legally complicated, the FDA cannot restrict access of a specific medication or tobacco product to specific businesses or industries according to the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.  For example, the agency cannot dictate that one drug company can sell Chantix while another company cannot.  No preferential treatment is allowed.

Similarly, the FDA cannot legally mandate which retail establishments can sell combustible tobacco products.  Nor can the agency determine that vape shops can sell e-cigs but gas stations and convenience stores cannot.  If a properly licensed vape shop can sell them, then a properly licensed gas station can, too.

White House Director of Domestic Policy: FDA regulation of tobacco is ‘moronic’

If all of these interlocking issues surrounding vaping makes the idea of a nationwide flavor ban seem confusing and convoluted, you’d be right.  It is complicated, and President Trump is finally coming to terms with this complexity.

One of the most vocal opponents of such a ban is a member of Trump’s own administration.  On November 8, Politico reporter Dan Diamond tweeted a link to a recent C-SPAN2 appearance by White House Director of Domestic Policy Joe Groban where he said that FDA tobacco regulation is a “huge waste of time.”  Groban says that the nation’s top public health agency obviously has much bigger fish to fry than to worry about tobacco which has “no redeeming [health] qualities” especially when compared to new cancer medications and more advanced cystic fibrosis therapies.

 “I hate tobacco issues. I always have.  And FDA shouldn’t be regulating this stuff in the first place. When I was in the Bush Administration and this conversation started, I said that this is a moronic idea.  FDA regulated drugs that help people.  And you balance safety and effectiveness.  It regulated devices, which help people. And you balance whether or not they’re safe and effective. This stuff is awful.  Tobacco has no redeeming qualities, and it shouldn’t be regulated by a health agency like [the FDA].” 
“The sucking up of everybody’s bandwidth on tobacco issues is a huge distraction.  The fact that an FDA Commissioner like Scott Gottlieb or Ned Sharpless or whoever the next one’s going to be has to spend all this time on tobacco issues when they could be trying to figure out how to advance new therapies that cure cancer, how to solve cystic fibrosis, how to get more drugs approved more quickly to help more people, get more competition to bring prices down, and they’re spending time on trying to navigate all this stuff?  Grogan would then go on to say that tobacco regulation by the FDA is simply a “huge waste of time.” 

Groban also acknowledges that the Trump Administration is still very concerned about underage vaping.  However, the FDA should be striking the right balance between “protecting kids and giving adults the choices they need to stay off combustibles."  For the American vaping community, the final decision on a Trump flavor ban should happen this week, but a total ban is looking less and less likely.  Fingers crossed. 

Related Article:   Scientist: Anti-vaping hysteria is blowing ‘biggest public health opportunity’ of 120 years

(Image courtesy of C-SPAN2)

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