We all know that the FDA has not been kind to vaping and e-cigarettes. In fact, it is safe to say that when it comes to harm reduction tools like vaping, the vaping community on the whole, doesn’t care much for the federal agency. However, this could soon change.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb will soon be nominated as the next commissioner of the FDA. While we still have to wait for the approval of the Senate after confirmation hearings are held, Dr. Gottlieb appears to be a shoe-in. How can Gottlieb help the future of vaping? First, let’s take a look at what the role of Commissioner does and then explain how the Doctor can make a positive influence.
What Does the FDA Commissioner Do?
The FDA Commissioner is an important role in the agency — in this position, the Commissioner oversees over a dozen separate sub-agencies, such as the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP). He is essentially the agency boss, if you will, for the sub-agencies that impose regulations for nicotine products.
Will Dr. Gottlieb be Good For Vaping?
As Commissioner, Gottlieb could potentially be a great asset for pro-vaping Americans. For example, as the commissioner over a dozen-plus sub-agencies, he can make an impact regarding policies and regulations. The CTP (the Center for Tobacco Products) imposed regulations last year that deemed e-cigs and other products that contain nicotine to be under their control.
Should Dr. Gottlieb be appointed to the new position (and the odds look pretty solid), then it would be within his control to fire the CTP director, Mitch Zeller, and to replace his staff with pro-vaping and pro-harm reduction employees. He could also make the decision to take the regulation of vaping into another direction — meaning, to not demonize e-cigs and vaping, but to encourage it as other developed countries do in order to quit smoking. Or even better, he could take a new direction and decide not to regulate the industry at all (or very minimally, for safety only).
Changing the Harmful Attitude of the FDA Could be a Lifesaver — Literally
Currently, the regulation of harm reduction tools like vaping and e-cigarettes is punishing the industry with insane, over-the-top taxation and regulations that require ex-post-facto testing (which is extremely expensive) for products that have already been on the market for years. Clearly intended as a money-grab, this has meant that vape shops around the country have had to close down, employees have lost their jobs, and many vapers have gone back to smoking deadly traditional cigarettes because it ended up being (ironically) cheaper. One would think that the FDA cares about putting a stop to smoking, but by refusing to acknowledge the scientific studies that have confirmed that vaping is incredibly safer than smoking, they continue to rake in the dough from politicians and use their anti-vaping rhetoric to cash in at the expense of the health of the American public.
Dr. Gottlieb could be put in a position to make the changes necessary for the FDA to create (or not create) regulations and taxation on vape products — by using scientific studies, fact-based information, and a more modern view towards harm reduction, Gottlieb does have the potential to be a great new addition to the FDA as the new commissioner.
What is Dr. Gottlieb’s Stance on Regulating E-Cigs and Vape Products?
Thankfully, Gottlieb’s stance is a positive one for the vaping industry. While it is impossible to know whether he would fire the CTP head and his staff and replace them with a more pro-vaping set of individuals, there are some encouraging signs that his presence in the FDA will be a positive one that us vapers can look forward to.
The most important one is this — Dr. Gottlieb actually understands some of the issues regarding e-cigarettes and vaping. In 2013, he wrote an article for Forbes that identified some of the very real issues present at the CTP — this is excellent news. He described the FDA Tobacco center (as well as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) that created the CTP sub-agency, as being on a knife’s edge between fulfilling its mandate to encourage the production of harm reduction products and satisfying the anti-tobacco zealots whose influence and misinformation has grown and continues to harm people since the TCA has been passed.
Because anti-tobacco zealots don’t seem to understand that we’re on the same side (vaping and e-cigs don’t have tobacco in them and do not contain the harmful chemicals, heat, or secondhand smoke that cigarettes do), their ignorance has influenced the FDA — but Dr. Gottlieb has seen this and out of seemingly genuine concern for smokers, he understands the positives of vaping and e-cigs in helping to save lives and stop smoking.
In his 2013 Forbes article, Gottlieb wrote that the success of the CTP sub-agency depended on the “FDA being able to establish — and maintain — a regulatory path that let tobacco get approval for new products that posed a ‘reduced harm’ over traditional smoked cigarettes […] It always seemed a naive aspiration — that FDA would ever sanction such products — and even more uncertain that the anti-tobacco crowd would let this paradigm advance.”
His encouraging and reasonable words lend hope to the possibility of change in the FDA if Gottlieb is indeed appointed as the new FDA Commissioner.
Health Policy Experts Should be Scientifically-Minded and Factually-Driven
It is very encouraging to see a health policy expert like Dr. Gottlieb who isn’t just a politician who is ignorant to just about everything; but a doctor who can understand the real issue at stake regarding e-cigs and vaping. And do whatever he can to reduce regulations and taxation that is killing this industry, which is trying to save lives of smokers (as well as the next generation).
Often, a person’s beliefs can be viewed through their words. Gottlieb has repeatedly referred to the “anti-tobacco crowd” as “activists,” and has made it clear that he considers them “Activists [who] have managed to infiltrate the middle ranks of the agency’s center.” These are strong words regarding the CTP, and it is good news for vapers that the future Commissioner is not a crazed, ignorant, anti-nicotine “activist.”
More About Dr. Gottlieb
In addition, Gottlieb works for the AEI (the American Enterprise Institute), which is a think tank that has been pro-vaping (and supportive of other tobacco harm reduction products). The AEI is also where Dr. Sally Satel works; she is a Yale psychiatrist who has been one of the most visible defenders of vaping we have seen as of late.
Gottlieb has also served at the FDA before. He did a few jobs for G.W. Bush, including acting as deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs.
Potential Negatives and Bumps in the Road
While we can look forward to Dr. Gottlieb being a much better candidate for Commissioner of the FDA, it must be noted that he has close ties to the pharmaceutical industry, too. The pharm industry has been an opponent of consumer nicotine products and is especially against vaping. Gottlieb is also a partner in a venture capital firm where he is involved in the investments of health-related ventures.
The busy doctor also has served as a consultant and board member for many pharmaceutical companies such as: GlaxoSmithKline, who is the maker of DicoDerm nicotine patches and Nicorette gum. From the years 2013 to 2015, he has received more than $400,000 in payment from pharmaceutical companies (New York Times).
While these could end up being an issue for the vaping industry if Dr. Gottlieb decides to take the side of big pharma in an act of paid loyalty, it is unlikely to us that he would go against his pro-harm reduction stance. In fact, his experience with the pharma industry regarding nicotine patches and gum, could be a positive. It puts him in a position to continue his work.
In the end, Dr. Gottlieb seems to be a very good choice as FDA Commissioner. He is even respected by those who disagree with his stances on health care issues. He has been described as open minded and a proponent of details and scientific methods. Even former FDA lawyer John Taylor has stated that while he and Dr. Gottlieb have different backgrounds ideologically, he recognizes that he has “a record of doing things that are for the benefit of the consumers.”
And this is what the vaping industry needs the most.