• November 28, 2023

Accessing Innovation

 Accessing Innovation

Photos: Chris Frenzi Photography

Photos: Chris Frenzi Photography

GTNF 2022: Accessing Innovation

The vaping industry is born of innovation. During GTNF 2022, held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 27–29, nicotine industry stakeholders brought to the forefront the challenges that the electronic nicotine-delivery system (ENDS) market is facing. Many said lives are being lost and the vaping industry is being crippled by regulations that many industry stakeholders say are designed to keep smokers hooked on combustible cigarettes. A well-respected nicotine industry conference, GTNF 2022 highlighted the need to allow nicotine consumers access to less risky delivery systems.

The GTNF is held each year in varying cities around the globe. It consists of representatives and stakeholders in the global nicotine industry. It offers insight to its attendees through expert panels and keynote speakers that provide diverse viewpoints on a variety of aspects concerning the worldwide nicotine industry. The GTNF is also the parent organization for Vapor Voice and its sister publication, Tobacco Reporter.

This year, seminar speakers nearly 300 in-person attendees and 500 online registrants that access to products is being denied mainly by regulations, especially by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its Center for Tobacco Products, which is charged with regulating all nonmedical nicotine and tobacco products, including ENDS in that country. In this special section dedicated to GTNF 2022, Vapor Voice shares some of the sessions that helped paint a precise picture of what’s wrong and what could be done to possibly help dispel the current cloud of misinformation that surrounds ENDS products and help adult smokers gain better access to less harmful ways to consume nicotine.

The ENDS industry also won several awards at the GTNF, which hosts the nicotine industry’s Golden Leaf Awards. FEELM, the flagship atomization technology platform belonging to Smoore, the world’s largest vape manufacturer, won “Most Promising Innovation” for its FEELM Max device, and ALD won the “Reducing Environmental Impact Innovation” award for its innovative biodegradable technology design and cutting-edge product concept. Additionally, Innokin won “Best Innovation Breakthrough” for its joint venture with Aquios Labs to develop water-based vaping technology.

Forgotten Smokers

Most smokers belong to vulnerable groups, suffering from issues such as mental illness or unemployment.

By VV staff

Rather than being “forgotten,” as the session’s title suggested, people who smoke are an unexplored, stigmatized and often misunderstood species, according to the participants in a GTNF discussion about consumers. While consumer centricity has become a buzzword in the reduced-risk product industry, companies still have a lot to learn about their target group.

Altria, whose vision is to responsibly lead the transition to a smoke-free future, examined the plight of consumers on their journey to less hazardous products. “We had done a comprehensive research program about the interest in vape products, but what was really missing was to bring the voice of the consumer directly to the organization,” said Brent Taylor, managing director of consumer and marketplace insights at Altria.

Last year, the company initiated “Project 21,” a study of 21 consumers of combustible tobacco who were interested in switching to less harmful nicotine products (see “Listening to Nicotine Users,” Tobacco Reporter, September 2022). Over 21 days, Altria’s researchers catalogued the study participants’ behavior via videos and weekly surveys. The participants were asked to “do their best” but didn’t get any guidance, as Altria wanted to learn how they tackled the challenge on their own. Their progress was checked after three weeks, three months and six months.

After six months, 15 participants were still smoke-free. The people who were most successful were those who really wanted to switch and held themselves accountable. The project also showed that many factors unrelated to the product category, such as a bad day at work, impacted the success of participants in transitioning. Each of the journeys was unique and entailed its own set of complications. For all participants, it was a highly emotional experience, according to Altria.

Kim “Skip” Murray, a person who vapes and a tobacco harm reduction (THR) advocate who until last year ran a vape shop in Minnesota, related experiences from her customers that illustrate how external factors, such as misinformation and economic strain, can impact attempts at switching. One of her customers, a Vietnam veteran with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, returned to smoking for some months after press reports and health authorities mistakenly attributed the e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) outbreak to nicotine vapes.

Some clients reverted to more harmful but less expensive cigarettes when their budgets were tight. Discouragingly, the Food and Drug Administration’s marketing denial orders forced products off the market that had helped Murray’s customers quit cigarettes while leaving combustible products widely available. Murray said she was unable to dispel the myths about EVALI and many of the other false narratives about vaping. The number of people who came into her shop wanting to quit dropped substantially, eventually forcing her out of business.

Alex Clark, CEO of the Consumer Advocacy for Smoke-free Alternatives Association, stressed the importance of language in the smoking and health debate. “Smoker,” he said, has become a pejorative term. “We’re now focusing on people who have a history of being underprivileged, undeserved and oppressed—people who we don’t see in offices or at conferences; people who have been pushed to the margin of society.” Having smoked heavily in his youth, Clark recalled being told that his habit was a character flaw. The stigma of having no control over his decisions and essentially being a drug addict, Clark said, stuck with him even after he had switched to vaping.

Most of the 30 million Americans who smoke today belong to vulnerable groups, suffering, for instance, from mental illness or unemployment, according to health behavior consultant Cheryl K. Olson. Among people in custody, the percentage of people who smoke is four times higher across the world. Together with other researchers, Olson explored the potential of vape products for use in a prison environment and found that the acceptance was 95 percent. “For vulnerable groups, harm reduction is a realistic goal if nicotine abstinence is not,” she said. “Our findings about these groups have the potential to rebalance the conversation about appropriateness for the protection of public health.”

Will Godfrey, editor-in-chief of Filter and executive director of the Influence Foundation, bemoaned the lack of synergy between harm reduction for illegal drugs and harm reduction for tobacco.

Many illegal drug users smoke, and it would make sense to apply harm reduction strategies to both habits. In reality, those running drug-related programs are often unwilling to apply harm reduction to tobacco use. Bizarrely, some needle exchange programs for intravenous drug users are accompanied by anti-vaping policies, noted Godfrey.

He blamed the “deep suspicion” of the nicotine industry within the left-wing harm reduction movement as well as the growing influence of Bloomberg Philanthropies, a big funder of anti-smoking programs that is notoriously hostile to vapor products.

Godfrey urged the administrators of drug harm reduction programs to extend the harm reduction principle to smoking. “It is vital that THR, including the industry, builds momentum in this direction,” he said. “The hostility to the industry won’t go away but is surmountable, as the role of pharma in drug harm reduction has shown.”

Reservations Required

Brian King

The FDA’s CTP Director King says the Reagan-Udall review of the agency will be complete by mid-December.

By VV staff

There are plenty of reservations about the way in which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) has handled its responsibilities. During a brief speech at the GTNF 2022, the new director of the CTP, Brian King, did little to quell those concerns. He did, however, acknowledge the continuum of risk. “We do have certain products that are lower risk than combustible cigarettes, and that’s an important component of the dialogue,” said King.

King told attendees that there is an opportunity for the CTP to assess the risk of youth vaping initiation and counterbalance that with the opportunity for adults who use e-cigarettes to quit combustible cigarettes.

“I think that [the] public health standard is pretty critical to the work we do, and it’s definitely a guiding light in terms of my determinations and decision-making,” he said. “Ultimately, it comes down to the science … it’s very critical, to me, to ensure that we use that as our guiding light. And of course, the onus is on the applicants to ensure that they are providing the most robust signs possible to inform decision-making.”

The FDA has long been criticized for its handling of the premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process and is currently defending multiple lawsuits from vapor companies challenging its marketing denial orders (MDOs), including two from Juul Labs, which recently filed a lawsuit over the regulatory agency’s refusal to disclose documents supporting its MDO.

Juul claims the agency overlooked more than 6,000 pages of the data it submitted on the aerosols that users inhale, according to Joe Murillo, chief regulatory officer at Juul Labs, who also spoke at the conference (see “A Question of Integrity,” page ??).

King said that a sizeable portion of youth are still vaping flavored and disposable products. However, he also said that the potential benefits for adult smokers are “mutually exclusive” from youth uptake concerns. “I don’t think that they necessarily have to be separate; they can certainly be explored concurrently,” he said. “But again, we need to ensure that we’re considering the science from both ends when making our decisions.”

King said the agency is “continuing to make progress” on the estimated 1 million PMTAs for nontobacco nicotine products as well. He said over 90 percent of the applications have been completed. “We have 350 acceptances so far, and there’s about 800,000 that have received an RTA [a ‘refuse-to-accept’ letter], and I’m hopeful that within the next few weeks we should be able to get through all 100 percent of those 1 million.”

Being accepted for review is only the first step in the PMTA process. There are six stages, or rounds, to the PMTA process. After acceptance is filing, then a substantive review before an action is taken. King called the first step an important one. “[It’s] an important step, and I’m committed to ensuring that we keep things moving as expeditiously as possible,” King said.

King recently told the AP that he believes “there’s a lot of really important science and innovations” that have occurred in the vaping industry in recent years, adding that the most notable is nicotine salts in e-liquids. “We know that when you smoke a tobacco product, it’s a very efficient way to deliver nicotine across the blood-brain barrier. So it’s been very difficult to rival that efficiency in another product,” said King in the interview. “But in the case of nicotine salts, you have the potential to more efficiently deliver nicotine, which could hold some public health promise in terms of giving smokers enough nicotine that they would transition [off cigarettes] completely.”

King also discussed the FDA’s ability to force companies to comply with its MDOs. So far, very few companies that have been told to remove their products from the market have complied. King said the agency has multiple enforcement options to bring both manufacturers and retailers to heel.

“We have several tools available to us, including advisory actions,” he said. “We also have regulatory enforcement actions, including voluntary recalls as well as various other requested recalls. We can also take administrative action, civil money penalties (in terms of manufacturers, that penalty cannot exceed $15,000 for any single violation or $1 million for any number of violations related to a single action),” explained King. “When it comes to judicial action, we can do seizure, injunction and also criminal prosecution. I will say that when it comes to enforcement and compliance, nothing is off the table.”

King also updated attendees on the FDA’s external review of the CTP’s procedures, which is being conducted by the Reagan-Udall Foundation. Lauren Silvis, a former FDA chief of staff, was named as chair of the panel that has been asked to “evaluate regulatory processes and agency operations related to tobacco to help the center address new challenges as it works to reduce death and disease from tobacco and achieve its public health mission.”

“Within only a few weeks of assuming this role, we were told that there would be an external evaluation,” said King. “I actually wholly welcome it. I think it’s a good opportunity, particularly with new leadership, to identify areas where we’re doing things very well but also identify areas where we can enhance our efficiency and effectiveness. I have had meetings with [Silvis] and her team, and I’m confident that we’re going to get very useful information.

“It’s an ambitious timeline, 60 business days, so it’s going to work out to about 90 days total. It should finish probably by the end of the year, mid-December, and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to hear the recommendations. And I do have a very open mind on this. I’m always for improvement.”

King expects there will also be opportunities for external engagement, including listening sessions. He could not provide specifics during the speech but said he welcomes feedback from others in terms of informing the CTP’s processes.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all, but I do think that we have some great opportunities here,” he said. “I’m fully committed to listening to the evaluator’s input and ensuring that we use it in a very useful way … then we’ll take it from there … I’m sure many of you have heard publicly, my calendar is rapidly filling up, and we are meeting with many—I know I’ve met with several of you in the room already, and I value those opportunities to meet with folks from across the spectrum, whether it be industry or public health … to hear people’s insights, what your priorities are.

“And those have been very productive and helpful to me. I do listen. I think it’s a very useful opportunity to me in terms of hearing specifically what the recommendations are from industry and what are areas where you feel it would be useful for FDA to engage in to make your life easier in terms of submissions and applications and [what] processes are overly complicated and could be improved,” said King. “I’m fully committed to ensuring that happens.”

A Question of Integrity

Joe Murillo

Juul Labs accuses the FDA of submitting to political pressure when the agency issued Juul an MDO.

By VV staff

Joe Murillo is right. It is hard to believe that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewed Juul’s premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) thoroughly. Murillo, chief regulatory officer for Juul Labs, told attendees of the GTNF 2022 that the regulatory agency wrongly issued Juul a marketing denial order (MDO). That order was later stayed by both a court and the FDA itself.

The FDA says it follows the science; Murillo counters that the entire process is “substantively and procedurally flawed,” adding that the MDO was not based on a fair and complete review of the science in Juul’s PMTAs.

“Our PMTAs included over 125,000 pages of data. They included information and analyses from over 110 scientific studies, and these studies cut across nonclinical, clinical and behavioral research programs,” he said. “We assessed our products relative to combustible cigarettes … and relative to other marketed [electronic nicotine-delivery system] ENDS products. It seems as though, among other things, FDA overlooked at least 6,000 pages of these data.”

Murillo said that the FDA prides itself on having the “highest scientific integrity and public health focus, shielded from political interference.” That statement mirrored what was said by the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, Brian King, who spoke at the same conference. “Ultimately, it comes down to the science … it’s very critical, to me, to ensure that we use that as our guiding light,” King said (see “Reservations Required,” page ?).

Despite that stated commitment, the PMTA review process appears to be susceptible to politics, according to Murillo. He noted that the FDA has been under immense pressure to deny Juul Labs’ applications and remove Juul products from the U.S. market. “This political pressure cannot continue,” said Murillo. “FDA cannot allow the hostile conversations around tobacco harm reduction to seep into what should be a science and evidence-based process. The very integrity of the FDA’s review process is now called into question. The FDA must guard against politics and improper attempts to influence their scientific decision-making. We need to find common ground, turn down the temperature of the rhetoric and put people who smoke [combustible cigarettes] at the center.”

Juul Labs is now in a fight for its future. After the e-cigarette maker appealed the MDO in court, the FDA on July 5 stayed its own order. The agency announced that it would review its decision after determining that “There are scientific issues unique to this application that warrant additional review.” Alongside the agency’s internal review, Juul Labs also submitted its own administrative appeal with the FDA.

“In this appeal, we demonstrate how the agency’s denial of our applications was substantively and procedurally flawed,” said Murillo. “We requested, among other relief, that FDA rescind its denial and put our applications back into substantive review. Throughout this process, Juul products will remain on the market, and we are confident we can address any further questions the agency may have. So, we will continue to fight for the millions of adults who use our products. They deserve a complete review of the science and evidence we presented as required by law and without political interference.”

Murillo said that while underage use is a concern, last year’s National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) showed a significant decline in underage use compared with just two years ago, and youth use of cigarettes continues to decline to historic lows. Murillo said the decline in underage years can be attributed to many factors, including raising the minimum purchasing age to 21 and measures to further restrict access and limit appeal.

“But not all trends related to underage use are positive. Many of us are worried about the rise of disposable flavored products among youth,” he said. “In the United States, fly-by-night companies have flooded the market with illegally marketed products. These products flout laws and regulations and present a public health danger.”

According to Murillo, regulators must improve and prioritize enforcement. “True Age, NACS and other stakeholders are firmly committed to reducing and preventing underage access to tobacco products at retail,” he said. “Scientists and public policy experts have put forward thoughtful solutions to preserve the harm reduction opportunity for adults while also protecting youth.”

Meanwhile, regulatory uncertainty has created immense barriers to innovation in reduced-risk products. This uncertainty diminishes confidence in the products themselves and the category, according to Murillo, who said that uncertainty “has a chilling effect” on investment and further innovation.

“To be crystal clear, this uncertainty only prolongs cigarette use,” he said. “Despite challenges for alternatives like ours, with the PMTA process, new combustible cigarettes continue to receive authorization via substantial equivalents and even PMTA and MRTPA [modified-risk tobacco product application] pathways; 13 years after the passage of the Tobacco Control Act, cigarettes remain far and away the most used tobacco product in the United States, making up over 75 percent of the market.

“Less than 3 percent of the total tracked ENDS market is authorized under FDA’s PMTA process … the rest of the market, the vast majority of ENDS products fall into one of three precarious buckets,” explains Murillo. “One, those being sold illegally. This includes companies that have not even submitted to the PMTAs. Two, those awaiting a marketing decision from FDA after years of review; or three, those stuck in a highly opaque administrative process—one that’s subject to a shifting requirement and unpredictable timelines.”

Innovative products that are specifically designed to advance public health have a steep road ahead in the U.S. Murillo said this is alarming. While the technology is available to accelerate the displacement of combustible cigarettes, a slow and uncertain path to the market is a significant obstacle.

“The data suggests that ENDS sales are displacing cigarette sales. So, we can see an emerging path to end the combustible cigarette once and for all. Unfortunately, that path remains blocked by a political and regulatory environment that inhibits meaningful progress … I think most of us in this room appreciate that combustible cigarettes will one day be obsolete,” he said. “Undoubtedly, that is our company’s goal. It’s not a question of whether, but of when … As an industry, we can accelerate this public health goal through product innovation and evidence-based policy development. But the viability of the marketplace is at stake, especially for those companies that don’t sell cigarettes.”

Murillo said an example of innovation in a market that is more accepting of ENDS products as a tool toward harm reduction can be found in the U.K., where Juul Labs launched its Juul 2 product last year. The platform includes cutting-edge technology designed to deliver a more consistent vapor experience with improved nicotine delivery. Its temperature control minimizes the production of toxicants, and the platform can help address underage use through its pod technology.

“We’ve also developed a mobile app that can be used for age verification and locking the device when it’s out of the range of a user’s phone,” said Murillo. “The app has other features that enhance the experience for users as they switch away from cigarettes. We’re confident that Juul 2 delivers a better experience for adult smokers than products currently available, which should result in increased switching from combustible cigarettes.”

In the end, Murillo said he is disappointed with where the ENDS industry is currently, but he has a genuine belief that there is an endgame for combustible tobacco. “Society cannot allow the death and disease associated with smoking to be a part of the incremental progress we’ve made,” he said. “Absent a renewed and fundamental commitment to the very concept of harm reduction, we will lose this opportunity.”

Perceptions of Nicotine

Because of its association with combustible cigarettes as a delivery device, nicotine is surrounded by misconceptions.

By VV staff

Participants in “The Perceptions of Nicotine” panel during the GTNF 2022, began the conversation by drawing comparisons to similar consumer products, most notably caffeine. Nicotine is found in tobacco leaves, but it’s also found, at lower levels, in plants, such as tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and sweet peppers. However, by far its predominant source is in tobacco leaves.

Caffeine can also be found in multiple food sources, including coffee beans, tea, cocoa beans, Kola nuts and guarana berries. The amount of caffeine in guarana berry seeds is about the same as the amount of nicotine in tobacco leaves, up to about 4 percent, according to a panelist. Unlike caffeine, however, nicotine is tied to tobacco. Nicotine is a public pariah while caffeine is socially acceptable. The panelist agreed that this is due to the differences in how the public has been educated on these products. Medical professionals, for example, get much of their information from medical societies, one panelist noted.

One challenge is that the public and even many medical specialists don’t distinguish between nicotine and smoking. “I think that’s part of the problem,” a speaker said. “How do we untangle that? Nicotine does not produce disease. It’s not carcinogenic. It does increase heart rate and blood pressure. And perhaps there are some positives … it’s a stimulant, it induces pleasure, and it improves concentration, reaction time [and] performance on some tasks, but it can also reduce stress and anxiety.”

For consumers, when asked why they smoke, the most common answer is for enjoyment and pleasure; however, nicotine ranks low on the list of motivations. But when you ask a smoker, “Why do you find smoking difficult to quit?” the answer is “because I’m addicted—addicted to nicotine.” One panelist said when consumers want medical information, more than 70 percent say the first place they go is the internet. The misinformation is rampant, even from seemingly trustworthy sources.

“The first place that they turn for health-related information is the internet. More than 70 percent of people say that’s the first place they go when they’re looking for information … because it’s easy to use, and they find information that way,” a panelist said. “Just doing the quick search yesterday, you put in electronic cigarettes into the Google search engine, and the first thing you see is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, which is great; it’s a government resource. The Office on Smoking and Health is the place within the federal government for information on health and smoking.

“But when you click on that link, the first thing you see is information on the EVALI [e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury] outbreak. The headline is [about an] outbreak of lung injuries from e-cigarettes and vaping products. That’s not the right way to help people understand the comparative risks between cigarettes and electronic cigarettes and nicotine-replacement therapy and other lower risk [nicotine] products.”

Many years ago, smoking and addiction were joined together, and that has now created the assumption in the public that nicotine use equals smoking, which equals addiction. It’s not helping people who smoke understand how they might be able to use the products that are available, including lower risk tobacco and nicotine-containing products as well as nicotine-replacement therapy, to quit smoking. Panelists agreed the misconception was doing more harm than good for public health.

The way vaping and tobacco products are regulated is also partly to blame, according to the panel. Tobacco companies are very limited in the amount of information they can provide on their products. Swedish Match, for example, was the first company to receive an authorization for a modified-risk tobacco product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, however, severely restricted the ways in which Swedish Match could communicate the lower risk of its product to consumers.

“We got super excited internally. I mean, here we have a product, it had no carcinogens, no tar, no nitrosamines, significant risk reductions, and when we started looking at how and what we can communicate, it was incredibly limited … as we were going through our process, we had [tried] to figure out how to tell consumers this was different without telling them it was different,” explained a panelist representing Swedish Match. “It was very challenging. We were trying to figure out how to use different colors and different cues. It was a brand-new category, so we’re trying to educate people on a brand-new category with a can, and you didn’t even know what was in it …. It was incredibly difficult to try to do that.”

Swedish Match also gathered customer testimonials, but regulations kept the company from doing anything with them. Another panelist explained that consumers do not separate nicotine from tobacco. Nearly 80 percent of the population agree that those are virtually the same. When asked to compare the risks of products, people list tobacco as the most harmful, followed closely by nicotine and then alcohol.

Caffeine, however, is on the other end of the scale. “Caffeine is on a totally different end of the spectrum. Interestingly, when we think about where the market is moving and things are moving relative to legality, you look at CBD, look at THC, [and caffeine] is more closely associated from a harm perspective to CBD and THC,” a speaker said. “In terms of addictiveness, 96 percent of U.S. consumers would say that nicotine is addictive. Only 76 percent say that caffeine is addictive. But then, you look at harmfulness to health. You can see this wide gap that exists in terms of … the core chemical, 89 percent versus 46 percent in terms of harmfulness to health [nicotine versus caffeine].”

The panelists argued that people who smoke combustible cigarettes are less likely to try less harmful products if they perceive those products to be no different than what they’re currently using in terms of harm. There’s very little motivation for them to try them. There is also very little the industry can do to reverse the misinformation surrounding nicotine.

“The industry’s hands are tied with regard to the voice that the industry can have. But I think the role that the industry can play in it is to continue to develop high-quality, lower risk products that are acceptable alternatives for cigarettes for people who smoked cigarettes, and then get those through the regulatory process,” a panelist said. “It’s up to the FDA to communicate to consumers that there are less risky products to consume nicotine.”

Constitutional Conundrum

Jonathan Adler

Law professor Jonathan Adler says some FDA rules may violate a company’s First Amendment rights.

By VV staff

There are numerous challenges to achieving the goal of tobacco harm reduction. Addressing these challenges might require thinking differently about how to approach the regulatory process and perhaps the extent to which the regulatory process needs to be changed, according to Jonathan Adler, the inaugural Johan Verheij Memorial Professor of Law and the founding director of the Coleman P. Burke Center for Environmental Law at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he teaches courses in environmental, administrative and constitutional law.

Speaking at the GTNF 2022, Adler said that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s handling of premarket tobacco product applications (PMTAs) has been arbitrary. It’s been sloppy. It hasn’t followed its own guidances. “It’s pretty clear that the FDA was not prepared for this onslaught of applications, prepared for the volume, prepared for the type of analyses it would have to conduct,” he told attendees. “And [the agency] responded to that with a mixture of cutting corners and adopting shortcuts that would enable it to make decisions, typically negative decisions, so that it could process these applications.”

Companies aren’t happy with how the FDA has handled the PMTA process. Numerous companies have taken the agency to court, with mixed results. There are currently more than 30 court cases surrounding PMTA actions. Adler said that the FDA has responded inconsistently to these lawsuits. After denying Juul’s application, for example, the FDA decided to reconsider and review all the things it was supposed to review before issuing a marketing denial order. The agency took the same type of action with Turning Point Brands.

In other cases, however, the FDA has been willing to let the courts decide. The challenge in this approach is that the FDA is being strategic about which cases it fights in court and which cases it retreats on. “As someone that follows a lot of administrative litigation, it certainly looks as if FDA is retreating where the cases against its actions are the strongest and allowing cases to proceed where it thinks the challenges are weak,” said Adler. “[This is] either because issues haven’t been raised or because issues haven’t been printed in the strongest way possible or perhaps because the applications were weaker to begin with.

“As these precedents build, it will become easier and easier for FDA to defend against challenges to even the strongest arguments, so this is certainly part of the regulatory challenge …. We know—and this is all information that you’re all aware of—that the majority of people in the United States believe that ENDS [electronic nicotine-delivery systems] are as [dangerous] if not more dangerous than combustible cigarettes.”

There are other challenges too. Adler said the United States also has trust issues on both sides of the aisle. Many of the institutions and authorities that historically have been seen as trustworthy and would provide accurate information aren’t considered to be as reputable anymore.

“And certainly, the experience of Covid and the like has eroded that trust even more,” he said. “We need to think more broadly about how we might overcome this challenge. My own view is that we need to think more about the competitive process and how we discover how to communicate to consumers. And that word ‘discover’ is important. Because it’s not always clear what consumers want, why they want it and how you let them know that what you have might be what they want.”

In the case of nicotine products, due to FDA regulations, companies can’t compete in trying to convince smokers that their product will satisfy the desire for nicotine, or whatever else, in a less risky way. In Section 911 of the Tobacco Control Act, there are strict restrictions on what can be said about modified-risk tobacco products, including factually true statements. Adler said that’s a problem because if companies are able to compete on characteristics like health impact, it affects not only the behavior of those companies, but it also affects consumer understanding.

“This statute has also been interpreted, I would argue quite aggressively, by the FDA. The FDA’s position is that producers of electronic cigarettes can’t quote things that Brian King said here yesterday [the CTP director spoke at the GTNF on Sept. 28]. Can’t quote things the FDA has put in the Federal Register that are indisputably factually true. And if they say things like ‘This might help you quit smoking,’ well, then the FDA’s position is ‘forget [the modified-risk order] …. That makes you a drug device.’ And there’s a whole different approval process you have to go through for that.”

A constitutional law professor, Adler views Section 911 as a potential First Amendment issue. The U.S. Supreme Court, he said, has stated repeatedly that courts should be especially skeptical of regulations that seek to keep people in the dark for what the government perceives to be their own good. That includes attempts to deprive consumers of accurate information about their chosen product.

“We’re not talking about sensational claims about unproven medications or unproven treatments. We are talking about claims that the FDA itself acknowledges are true. [In a case involving the FDA and a compounding pharmacy that the agency wanted to prevent from advertising,] we rejected the notion that the government has an interest in preventing the dissemination of truthful, commercial information in order to prevent members of the public from making bad decisions with the information.

“And the circuit, in the context of nutritional supplements, has also said that it is clear that when the government chooses a policy of suppression over disclosure, at least where there was no showing that disclosure would not suffice to cure misleadingness, government disregards are far less restrictive means. It violates the relevant standards under the First Amendment.

“The FDA’s position is that no disclaimer, no disclosure can somehow cure the problem of telling people what the FDA itself has said about noncombustible products. It’s not clear to me—I mean that’s not only not rational, [but] it’s not clear to me why that’s constitutional.”

Study Sessions

Showing the FDA that flavors are appropriate for the protection of public health may be a challenge.

By VV staff

Flavors other than tobacco will not be allowed on the U.S. market. In order for that to happen, a manufacturer would need to show the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that flavors other than tobacco are appropriate for the protection of public health (APPH), and that may be more complicated than once thought. This was the opinion of Christopher Russell, director at Russell Burnett Research and Consultancy.

Presenting at the GTNF 2022 in Washington, D.C., Russell described the regulatory rationale and features of several types of research studies that can be conducted to compare the efficacy of flavored electronic nicotine-delivery system (ENDS) products versus tobacco-flavored ENDS products for facilitating switching and reducing cigarette consumption among adult smokers.

For a premarket tobacco product application, the FDA requires a range of valid scientific data and other research information to determine whether permitting the marketing of the new tobacco product qualifies as APPH. However, Russell explains, the Food, Drugs and Cosmetics (FD&C) Act, which guides the FDA’s authority, doesn’t clearly define APPH.

“Instead, to determine whether a new tobacco product meets the APPH standard, Section 910 of the FD&C Act requires FDA to, among other things, weigh the risks and benefits of the new tobacco product to the population as a whole, including users and nonusers of tobacco products, and taking into account both the likelihood that existing tobacco users will stop using such products if the new product is marketed and the likelihood that individuals who do not currently use tobacco products will start to use tobacco products if the new product is marketed,” Russell said.

To consider the marketing of a new tobacco product to be APPH, the FDA states that a PMTA must contain sufficient valid scientific information that demonstrates that the new tobacco product significantly reduces harm or the risk of tobacco-related diseases to individual tobacco users. Additionally, allowing adults access to ENDS and other noncombustible tobacco products cannot come at the expense of addicting a new generation of children and teenagers to nicotine.

“Though the FDA has sought to strike a balance in recent years between reducing youth appeal and access to ENDS on one hand while maintaining opportunities for addicted adult smokers to access ENDS on the other hand, the FDA’s current position expressed most recently in the issuance of marketing denial orders (MDOs) for flavored ENDS products is that the evidence available to FDA is clear in showing that the appeal and the likelihood of use of flavored ENDS by youth harms the public health to a level that is not outweighed by the health benefits of adult smokers switching to ENDS products,” said Russell. “In fact, flavored ENDS do not confer any incremental benefits over and above tobacco-flavored ENDS.”

The FDA has indicated that it may require a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and or a longitudinal cohort study (LCS) that demonstrates the benefit of an applicant’s flavored products help adult smokers more than they entice youth to start vaping. The FDA said it would also consider data that showed the same results through other research routes.

An RCT uses control factors not under direct experimental control. Examples of RCTs are clinical trials that compare the effects of drugs, surgical techniques, medical devices, diagnostic procedures or other medical treatments, according to Russell. An LCS is a research study that follows large groups of people over a long time. The groups are alike in many ways but differ by a certain characteristic (for example, vapers who use flavors other than tobacco, those who vape tobacco and those who smoke combustible cigarettes).

“I think FDA is—without being explicit—they are strongly communicating that an RCT or a longitudinal cohort study would provide the strongest evidence of an added benefit of a flavored ENDS product and that any application for a flavored ENDS product that does not contain one of those two studies or both of those studies will leave FDA in a position where they cannot possibly be confident that the potential benefits of the flavored ENDS would outweigh or overcome the risks to youth or would exceed the benefits of a comparable tobacco-flavored product,” said Russell. “I cannot see any circumstance in which flavored ENDS products will receive marketing authorization without having provided FDA with reliable and robust evidence from at least one of these two study designs. RCT is the gold standard in interventional research, and longitudinal cohort studies [are] the gold standard in observational research.”

Innovating for Tomorrow

Innovating should be about improving the vaping industry, not just its next-generation products.

By VV staff

When creating a smoke-free world, innovation must take place not only in terms of products but also in terms of regulation, communication, and sustainability. That was one of the messages of the “Innovating for Tomorrow” panel discussion during the recent GTNF 2022.

Ming Deng, head of Next-Generation Products (NGPs) Industry Study at Yunnan University, spoke about his desire to make NGPs smart and mobile. At present, he said, the electronic functions that differentiate an NGP from a combustible cigarette just serve as a marketing tool. However, the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT)—the combination of artificial intelligence with the Internet of Things—offers considerable opportunity to improve human-machine interactions and enhance data management and analytics, among other benefits. “With AIoT, producers could trace consumers’ needs and innovate products accordingly,” said Deng.

For Meisen Liu, R&D director at Shenzhen Zinwi Bio-Tech, lower temperature atomization is one of the most important objectives in current research as it is safer for human health. A higher atomization temperature causes atomizing agents to decompose into harmful aldehydes whereas atomizing agents with a low boiling point decrease the atomizing temperature and reduce the emission of harmful substances. Liu also described how nicotine salts derived from different acids had different properties regarding sensory stimulation or taste. His company, he said, had created a new type of nicotine salt that allows for enhanced stimulation in markets where the amount of nicotine in e-liquids is restricted.

Kevin Peng, advanced technology scientist at the ALD Group, spoke about technologies to reduce the carbon footprint of vape product manufacturing and consumption. Earlier this year, his company launched a “green cigarette,” a disposable vape product featuring 6 percent lower carbon emissions than combustible cigarettes. The company also developed a super-slim pod for reusable vaping devices made from a material that has only one-third of the carbon emission of ALD’s older materials. This way, he said, his company had achieved a 50 percent emission reduction compared to other pod products.

ALD also conducted an emission assessment for its organization and products. “ESG [environmental, social and governance] is a much more difficult thing than we thought,” Peng stated. “We found that most suppliers are not very responsive in terms of such requirements.” He called for a unified industry ESG standard for suppliers, which would make it easier to reduce emissions.

To help accelerate its transformation, BAT established Btomorrow Ventures two-and-a-half years ago. Lisa Smith, the subsidiary’s managing director, related how Btomorrow had set up a number of innovative ecosystems. “It’s a highly competitive market,” she said. “It’s difficult to find the best innovators out there.” Her company’s role is to be the “handshake” to the outside world to show that BAT is an appropriate partner for innovators. Among the many tasks in BAT’s transformation are to quickly promote the ESG agenda and move beyond nicotine. In order to achieve the latter, she said, the company had to build science and credibility.

ICCPP, a provider of solutions for e-cigarettes and heated-tobacco products, believes that the key to innovation in vaporization might be the ceramic coil. The company, which focuses on research and manufacture of electronic atomizing technologies and is the parent company of the Voopoo vaping brand, introduced the world’s first nano-microcrystalline ceramic core in 2021. According to William Yu, vice president of global ODM business at ICCPP, the core is based on environmentally friendly mineral materials that result in an increased nicotine delivery and stable flavors. In combination with a powder-free technology and a porous structure, the core enables a significant increase in atomization, according to Yu. The company also develops environmentally friendly products, such as a disposable cigarette made from special recyclable paper.

Continuing to innovate is essential as the industry is at a crossroads, said George Cassels-Smith, CEO of Tobacco Technology Inc. (TTI). After the Food and Drug Administration, through its onerous market authorization processes, had “frozen” the U.S. market for next-generation products, TTI opened a new manufacturing site in Italy, which according to Cassels-Smith is more open to innovation. “It’s vital to involve science, which is one of the pillars of what is a quick-moving new technology,” he said. “It needs expertise to focus on this direction because, ultimately, we must find superior products to combustible cigarettes.”