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Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition and E-Vapor Industry Trade Associations File Motion for Summary Judgment in Lawsuit Challenging FDA's Deeming Regulation and the Tobacco Control Act

On July 25, 2016, the Right to be Smoke Free Coalition and ten national and state e-vapor industry trade associations (the "E-Vapor Coalition"), filed a Motion for Summary Judgement in a lawsuit challenging parts of the Tobacco Control Act (TCA) and the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) recently published "Deeming Rule" which, effective August 8, 2016, captures most e-vapor products as regulated tobacco products under the TCA. To review the motion and supporting brief, click here.

The named Plaintiffs in the E-Vapor Coalition lawsuit are the Right to be Smoke Free Coalition, the American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA), the American Vaping Association (AVA), the Electronic Vaping Coalition of America (EVCA), the Georgia Smoke Free Association (GSFA), the Kentucky Smoke Free Association (KFSA), the Louisiana Vaping Association (LAVA), Maryland Vape Professionals (MVP), the Ohio Vapor Trade Association (OHVTA), the New Jersey Vapor Retailers Coalition (NJVRC) and the Tennessee Smoke Free Association (TSFA). Also supporting the lawsuit are the Shenzhen E-Vapor Industry Association-USA (SEVIA-USA), the Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association (SFATA), the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-Free Alternatives Association (CASAA) and NOT Blowing Smoke (NBS).

The E-Vapor Coalition lawsuit, which was filed on June 20, 2016 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, was consolidated with the lawsuit filed earlier in the same court, Nicopure Labs  v. FDA, No. 1:16-cv-878 (D.D.C. 2016), on June 28, 2016. Following consolidation, the parties agreed to a briefing schedule that allowed Nicopure Labs to file its Motion for Summary Judgment on July 8, 2016, and the E-Vapor Coalition to file a separate summary judgment motion on its unique counts on July 25, 2016 (while incorporating by reference all of Nicopure Labs' arguments). FDA has until August 16, 2016 - eight days after the Deeming Regulation becomes effective - to respond to both motions. All briefing will be completed by September 8, 2016, and oral arguments have been scheduled for October 19, 2016 at 10:00 AM ET in Washington, D.C. 

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, the E-Vapor Coalition argues that FDA's authority over tobacco products is not unfettered, but circumscribed by the statute's underlying purposes - which strike a careful balance between various policy issues. Specifically, the statute provides that adults must have continued access to tobacco products (i.e., FDA cannot ban or virtually eliminate such products from the marketplace), while at the same time prohibiting access to such products by underage consumers. Along similar lines, the TCA requires FDA to regulate in a flexible manner so that relatively safer products can be developed and commercialized while more dangerous ones are kept off the market. Any effort by FDA to deem additional tobacco products under the TCA must reflect these compromises.

During the rulemaking, FDA repeatedly acknowledged that using e-vapor products likely presents far less risk than smoking cigarettes, and that individuals switching from combusted tobacco products to e-vapor products may significantly reduce their harm. The agency also recognized that the availability of e-vapor products could potentially lead to increased smoking cessation rates in this country and ultimately reduce tobacco-related disease and death - another one of the primary purposes of the TCA. These conclusions are consistent with scientific research, both in the United States and abroad, finding that e-vapor products are substantially less risky than combustible tobacco products. See, for example, Public Health England's recent report finding that e-vapor products are 95% less harmful than traditional cigarettes, which was followed by the Royal College of Physicians' ground breaking report lauding the public health benefits of e-vapor products. 

Nevertheless, FDA chose to regulate e-vapor products in a manner that is even more stringent than its regulation of cigarettes. Resulting in what will be a virtual ban on many (if not all) vaping product categories is FDA's decision to force vaping product manufacturers into a Pre-Market Tobacco Application ("PMTA") process that was actually designed to prevent the introduction of relatively more harmful tobacco products to the market. Accordingly, PMTAs require, inter alia, long-term clinical studies which, as FDA concedes, do not yet exist. These longitudinal studies must focus on population-level effects, such as the impact of each e-liquid or vaping device on overall smoking initiation or cessation rates.  

FDA's approach also effectively writes out of the TCA one of the pre-market authorization pathways - the Substantial Equivalence ("SE") Report - that Congress intended for FDA to use in a more flexible exercise of enforcement authority so that relatively less risky products, like e-vapor products, remain on the market and are available to adult consumers so long as they do not raise different questions of public health compared to a predicate (grandfathered) product. The SE Report pathway, while also imposing substantial informational requirements on manufacturers, does not necessarily require long-term clinical studies and, as such, is not as burdensome in terms of time and financial resources as PMTAs. However, without any grandfathered products available for use as predicates, all e-vapor products introduced after February 15, 2007 are forced to go through the PMTA process, which the agency admits will eliminate, at a minimum, 97% of the industry. 

With no way to avail themselves of the SE Report pathway, for each vaping product on the market on August 8, 2016, manufacturers will have to file a PMTA within a two-year compliance period (i.e., by August 2018). Vaping product manufacturers will not have sufficient time over the next two years to conduct such long-term clinical studies or have the financial resources to meet other PMTA informational requirements that, according to the agency, will likely reach into the millions of dollars for each product application. Moreover, any new e-vapor products intended to be introduced after the effective date of the rule will have to first obtain PMTA authorization - essentially freezing the market on August 8, 2016.

Thus, instead of tailoring the pre-market process based on the type of tobacco product involved, the agency unlawfully adopted a "one-size-fits-all" pre-market regime that ignores e-vapor products' overall lower risk profile. The E-Vapor Coalition's motion highlights several of the Deeming Rule's short-comings, specifically:

  • FDA has applied a statutory February 15, 2007 grandfather date to e-vapor products that was intended for traditional tobacco products, like cigarettes. FDA was required under the statute to set a new grandfather date which would allow e-vapor products to take advantage of the more flexible SE pathway. 

  • FDA did not consider, as required under the Regulatory Flexibility Act ("RFA"), 5 U.S.C. §§ 601, et seq., any significant alternatives that, in the absence of a new grandfather date, would have allowed vaping product manufacturers sufficient time to develop the extensive information, including long-term clinical studies, necessary to successfully navigate the more stringent PMTA process. As it stands now, such data cannot be generated by the PMTA deadline of August 2018. 

  • Even if FDA is correct in that it must apply the February 15, 2007 grandfather date to e-vapor products, this means that the TCA itself violates substantive due process and is unconstitutional. Under this scenario, there would be no rational relationship between the TCA's underlying purposes and the means chosen by Congress to accomplish such goals. Indeed, as FDA conceded during the rulemaking, virtually all manufacturers will exit the vaping market, thus depriving adults of a relatively safer tobacco product and a chance to reduce or, better yet, quit their smoking habits.

Accordingly, the E-Vapor Coalition has requested the court grant it summary judgment and: (1) declare that the Deeming Rule exceeds FDA's statutory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, or an abuse of discretion under the Administrative Procedure Act with respect to FDA's failure to either establish a new grandfather date for all deemed e-vapor products or exercise its enforcement discretion in this regard; (2) set aside the Deeming Rule to the extent that FDA has applied the February 15, 2007 grandfather date to e-vapor products, and remand the rule to FDA so that the agency can set a new grandfather date for all deemed e-vapor products consistent with the Court's decision; (3) remand the rule to FDA so that the agency can conduct a proper regulatory impact analysis that addresses the lack of long-term clinical data for e-vapor products; and/or (4) declare the rule unconstitutional to the extent that it applies the February 15, 2007 grandfather date to e-vapor products.  

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About this Author

Azim Chowdhury, Keller Heckman, ECigarette Research lawyer, FDA Regulatory Compliance Attorney
Partner

Azim Chowdhury joined Keller and Heckman in 2010 and practices in the area of food, drug, and tobacco law. 

Mr. Chowdhury advises domestic and foreign corporations in matters of FDA and international regulatory compliance. In particular, he assists corporations in establishing clearances for food and drug additives in the U.S., Canada, and the European Union, with an emphasis on indirect additives used in food-contact materials.  Mr. Chowdhury has also developed expertise in tobacco and e-vapor product regulation relating to the implementation...

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Eric Gotting, Keller Heckman, ligation attorney, appeals lawyer, personal injury
Partner

Eric Gotting joined Keller and Heckman in 2011. He serves as a partner in the firm's litigation and environmental practice groups specializing in complex civil and appellate matters, with a focus on toxic tort, environmental, and corporate litigation.

Litigation and Environmental Experience

Mr. Gotting has handled cases across the country, having tried matters to verdict and argued appeals before federal and state appellate courts. His experience includes class actions, mass tort litigation, and administrative agency proceedings. Between 1999-2004, Mr. Gotting took leave from private practice and served as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division, Environmental Torts Section, where he defended the federal government in multimillion dollar toxic tort cases filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Mr. Gotting has extensive experience litigating toxic tort cases involving claims of personal injuries and property damage from alleged exposures to materials such as volatile and semi-volatile compounds, specialty chemicals, pesticides, gasoline, radioactive waste, and heavy metals. He defends claims involving the entire range of environmental media, including drinking water, soil, groundwater, and air contamination. He has worked with, and defended against, experts in numerous scientific and business-related fields, including toxicology, geochemistry, hydrogeology, structural engineering, neuropsychology, health physics, survey techniques, statistics, real estate appraisal, and environmental remediation. 

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