Vapor Makers Prevail Over FDA in PMTA Denial Suit

Credit: Tanasin

A split 11th Circuit on Tuesday told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration it shouldn’t have denied six e-cigarette companies’ premarket tobacco product applications (PTMAs) to sell flavored vaping products without first taking a look at their marketing and sales plans designed to minimize youth exposure and access.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted petitions for review filed by Bidi Vapor, Diamond Vapor and four other companies challenging the FDA’s rejection of their e-cigarette applications in a 2-1 decision. According to Chief Judge William Pryor, the agency didn’t assess “the companies’ marketing and sales-access-restriction plans designed to minimize youth exposure and access.”

The court explicitly labeled the FDA’s decision-making as “arbitrary and capricious.” Prior legal decisions have determined that FDA action must consider all relevant factors in order to be legally justifiable. In the case of these vape manufacturers, the court ruled that the FDA had not performed such consideration.

“These tobacco companies submitted survey information from their customers about smoking cessation, literature reviews, scientific studies about switching to e-cigarettes, smoking cessation, and the role of flavors, and details about its marketing and youth-access-prevention plans,” notes the court in its opinion. “For example, Diamond uses technology for its online sales that relies on public records to verify a purchaser’s age.”

Vapor industry advocates welcomed the decision. Gregory Conley, director of legislative and external affairs at the American Vapor Manufacturers Association said that while court ruling does not order the FDA to grant PMTAs—and that the agency is likely to deny the applications in the future—the companies involved could end up in the queue for review in 2025, which keeps them in business.

“Additionally, this leaves the door open for further litigation on these and other PMTAs,” Conley wrote on Twitter. “The FDA’s vague and undefined ‘appropriate for the protection of public health’ standard has long been open for attack. This is just the start.”

The 11th Circuit decision follows revelations that forced the FDA to admit to not considering all evidence when issuing marketing denial orders (MDOs) to vape products made by Juul and Turning Point Brands. In the interests of public health, future FDA decision-making must engage with all available evidence, not just evidence that leads to their preferred outcomes.

The court also recognized relevant distinctions between closed/cartridge systems and the e-liquids used in open systems. The court also found that the FDA’s refusal to review marketing plans was “error and not harmless” (disagreeing with Fifth and DC Circuits).

All petitioners’ appeals were granted, denial orders vacated and remanded.

In her dissent, Judge Robin Stacie Rosenbaum wrote that anyone who knows all the relevant facts of this lawsuit probably already knows how this case will eventually end.

“The Majority faults the FDA for not considering the companies’ proposed restrictions on kids’ use. And to be sure, the FDA said that factor would be relevant,” stated Rosenbaum. “But even assuming that the FDA erred when it didn’t consider the Companies’ proposed marketing and access-restriction plans, the FDA’s framework for evaluating pre-market tobacco product applications leaves no room for doubt that the FDA will deny—in fact, under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, must deny—the applications on remand. To paraphrase the Borg, then, remand is futile.”