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FDA Outlines Steps to Strengthen Tobacco Program

February 24, 2023: “The U.S. FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) outlined the steps it plans to take in response to an external evaluationExternal Link Disclaimer I commissioned last year from an independent panel of evaluators working through the Reagan-Udall Foundation.

The evaluation was an important opportunity to take a critical look at the Tobacco Program’s regulatory processes and operations.We have made tremendous progress preventing death and disability caused by tobacco use, but I am a strong believer that we can always benefit from examining how we can work most effectively and proactively to protect public health, support our staff, and be as responsive as possible to external stakeholders.

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When I started my career in intensive cardiac care, hospitals were full of relatively young people with sudden death, heart attacks, strokes and cancer attributable to tobacco use.

The effectiveness of the public health and medical communities to reduce the toll of tobacco products was enhanced when the FDA was granted the authority to regulate tobacco. 

As we enter this era of declining use of combustible tobacco and continued innovation in the e-cigarette industry, the societal concerns are not subtle.

Our ability to keep pace with these changes will depend on immediate, short-term and long-term actions the center is taking that we believe will position the agency to more successfully implement our regulatory oversight of tobacco products. 

CTP Director Brian King, Ph.D., M.P.H., has provided more detail about our approach to respond to the evaluation recommendations and our new plans, which will include the release of a 5-year strategic plan and comprehensive policy agenda by the end of the year.

CTP has committed to providing regular updates on the progress of these activities, including some noted here.

Application Review

In the past several years in particular, CTP has made important progress in the review of applications for e-cigarette products – authorizing several tobacco-flavored e-cigarette products and devices and rejecting marketing applications for millions of products that did not meet the requirements in the law.

Given the ever-evolving tobacco marketplace, it is imperative that we optimize the framework for application reviews to ensure any products marketed meet the law’s public health and regulatory standards.

This work will include, among other things: 

  • further streamlining of reviews when appropriate; 
  • increasing the use of the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee to discuss broader scientific matters central to premarket evaluation and individual product applications; 
  • posting current and future scientific policy memos and reviewer guides when appropriate; and
  • working internally and through engagement with external stakeholders to better communicate on scientific issues and practices to support efficiency, effectiveness, and transparency. These critical efforts will be bolstered by a new director in CTP’s Office of Science, who will begin in late March.

To achieve these goals, we need to have the appropriate resources to hire and retain staff with the skills needed to effectively meet our public health mandate around tobacco.

Since the agency’s fiscal year 2020 budget request, the FDA has advocated for the authority to collect user fees from e-cigarette companies, which currently do not pay user fees despite the enormous workload to review and make decisions regarding these products.

The FDA also continues to explore ways, including engaging with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management, to identify solutions to facilitate more timely and efficient hiring of qualified and diverse professionals that match CTP’s needs.  

Compliance and Enforcement

As the agency continues to make progress on its review of new and pending applications for novel products like e-cigarettes, the FDA will take additional action to remove illegal products from the market—particularly ones that have led to e-cigarettes being the most commonly used tobacco product among youth.

Between January 2021 and February 17, 2023, the FDA has issued more than 550 warning letters to companies for continuing to sell e-cigarette products that lacked the required FDA marketing authorization.

These companies had millions of products listed with the FDA. After receiving warning letters, a majority of these companies have complied and removed their products from the market. However, in cases where companies did not do so, the FDA can pursue further enforcement action.

For example, the FDA recently worked with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to file the first complaints for permanent injunctions against six e-cigarette manufacturers.

Additionally, for the first time, the FDA this week filed civil money penalty complaints against four tobacco product manufacturers for manufacturing and selling new e-liquids without marketing authorization.

The agency will continue to work as expeditiously as possible to remove illegal products from the market while identifying new ways to strengthen compliance and enforcement.  

As recommended by the external evaluation, effective immediately, the FDA will begin planning to convene a summit with senior officials from the HHS and DOJ related to enforcement.

The agency will also continue to work with other government agencies, such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Postal Service, the Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as with our compliance and enforcement partners at the state/local/territorial/tribal levels.”

This work will maximize compliance and enforcement activities where there are shared interests. Additionally, the FDA will explore alternative approaches to achieve compliance outside of judicial enforcement actions.”


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