Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Federal Judge to FDA: E-Cigarettes Are Tobacco Products, Not Drugs or Devices
On January 14, federal judge Richard J. Leon ruled that the FDA does not have the authority to regulate e-cigarettes as drug-delivery devices. (The 32-page opinion, available here is required reading for anyone interested in American tobacco policy). In addition to being a victory for e-cigarette manufacturers, this decision has enormous positive implications for tobacco harm reduction and for American smokers.
In 2008 and 2009, the FDA detained e-cigarette shipments being imported by two American distributors, Smoking Everywhere and NJoy, on the grounds that the items were unapproved drug-delivery devices. Judge Leon ordered that “the FDA shall not detain or refuse admission into the United States of [Smoking Everywhere's and NJoy’s] electronic cigarette products on the ground that those products are unapproved drugs, devices, or drug-device combinations.”
The judge found that the 2009 “Tobacco Act applies to ‘tobacco products,’ which Congress defined expansively as ‘any product made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption’…Congress enacted the Tobacco Act to confer FDA
jurisdiction over any tobacco product – whether traditional or not – that is sold for
customary recreational use, as opposed to therapeutic use. As such, the Tobacco Act, in effect, serves as an implicit acknowledgment by Congress that FDA's jurisdiction over drugs and devices does not, and never did, extend to tobacco products, like electronic cigarettes, that are marketed in customary fashion for purely recreational purposes.”
Finding that e-cigarettes, like all tobacco products, are subject to FDA oversight but fall outside of both drug and device categorization, Judge Leon characterized the FDA’s attempt to apply pharmaceutical standards to e-cigarettes as “bootstrapping run amuck.”
Judge Leon’s decision was not popular with tobacco prohibitionists. Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, seethed: “"Nicotine in products currently regulated as drugs and devices is derived from tobacco products, but that doesn't make them tobacco products.” The federal court, thankfully, found otherwise.
According to the New York Times, Myers was a primary author of the Tobacco Act. His goal was to cast the regulatory net widely and subject all tobacco-related products to FDA control. It is therefore ironic that the court has interpreted his legislation to free a potentially broad array of recreational nicotine products from the most stringent categories of regulation.
Judge Leon’s opinion may open up other commercial opportunities for recreational nicotine. Currently, pharmaceutical companies market nicotine gum, patch and lozenges as temporary “medications” for smokers who are attempting to achieve nicotine abstinence, the holy grail of tobacco prohibition. This has been an utter disaster, since the products are successful for only about 7% of smokers who try them, as I explained in a previous post. In addition, the FDA has refused to respond to a petition by New York State Commissioner of Health Richard Daines to revise package labeling and sale of nicotine that would greatly expand consumer awareness and availability.
But Judge Leon’s decision removes nicotine from FDA jurisdiction as a medicine as long as no therapeutic claims are made. If this ruling stands, it will allow pharmaceutical companies to reposition nicotine gum, patches and lozenges as recreational devices with higher doses that satisfy smokers, and sell them at prices competitive with cigarettes. This would liberate nicotine from the onerous and unnecessary restrictions and warnings currently mandated by the FDA.
This would be a revolutionary development for tobacco harm reduction. It would in effect accomplish what I first advocated in 1995 – deregulation of nicotine.