Physicians associations are expressing mixed opinions about the Food and Drug Administration’s new plan for regulating tobacco products, such as flavored cigars, hookah tobacco, and e-cigarettes.

As part of the new plan, announced July 28, the FDA will relax previous application deadlines set for makers of newer tobacco products. The agency will also seek more public input on the role of flavors in tobacco products before moving forward with specific regulations.

The American Thoracic Society (ATS) expressed disappointment with the FDA’s new plan, calling it a move that centers on delayed action. The agency already has more than enough information to proceed with regulation of flavored nicotine products, the ATS said in a statement.

“The delay outlined in [FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s] vision will cost the American public continued death and disease as a result of tobacco use,” Enid Neptune, MD , vice chair of the ATS Tobacco Action Committee said in the statement. “In short, Dr. Gottlieb’s announcement of the FDA’s new vision for regulating tobacco products is long on delay and short on action. The health of the American public, and particularly today’s youth, will suffer as a result of the FDA’s failure to act.”

The American College of Chest Physicians, meanwhile, applauded the FDA’s plan and expressed its support of the actions outlined.

“We welcome opportunities and actions that reduce tobacco use, addiction, and tobacco-related disease and death,” said Gerard Silvestri, MD , president for the college, in a statement. “We support the actions proposed by the FDA, which are likely to improve public health and reduce the burden of disease on patients and our country.”

As part of the FDA’s revised plan , the agency intends to begin a public dialogue about lowering nicotine levels in combustible cigarettes to nonaddictive levels through “achievable product standards.” The agency also plans to issue an advance notice of proposed rule making to seek input on the potential public health benefits and possible adverse effects of lowering nicotine in cigarettes.

Under revised time lines, applications for newly regulated combustible products, such as cigars, pipe tobacco, and hookah tobacco, must be submitted by makers to the FDA by Aug. 8, 2021, and applications for noncombustible products, such as e-cigarettes, must be submitted by Aug. 8, 2022. Manufacturers can continue to market their products while the agency reviews their product applications. The time frames push back previous deadlines that were established in a May 2016 final rule by the FDA. In the prior rule , manufacturers of all new tobacco products had 12-24 months to prepare and send applications for marketing authorization to the FDA and a 12-month continued compliance period after those dates in which to obtain FDA authorization.

The agency also plans to seek new public input on a range of related topics, including approaches to regulating kid-appealing flavors in e-cigarettes and cigars; the role that flavors in tobacco products, such as menthol, play in attracting youth; and the patterns of use and resulting public health impacts from premium cigars. Additionally, the agency will examine actions to increase access and use of FDA-approved medicinal nicotine products and work with sponsors to consider what steps can be taken under the safety and efficacy standard for products intended to help smokers quit, according to the FDA plan.

“This comprehensive plan and sweeping approach to tobacco and nicotine allows the FDA to apply the powerful tools given by Congress to achieve the most significant public health impact,” Mitch Zeller , director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products said in a statement. “Public input on these complex issues will help ensure the agency has the proper science-based policies in place to meaningfully reduce the harms caused by tobacco use.”

However, the ATS said that many of the issues raised in the FDA’s revised plan have already been discussed at length in the scientific literature and with the public.

“Scientific literature documenting the role cigars play in tobacco-related disease is extensive,” said Harold J. Farber, MD , chair of the ATS Tobacco Action Committee. “The FDA sought and received extensive public and industry input regarding exempting cigars during the proposed deeming rule. The FDA provided an extensive rational for why premium cigars should be regulated in its final deeming rule.”

In addition, the role of flavoring agents in tobacco products has also been discussed by the FDA, Dr. Neptune added. The agency previously sought, and received, extensive scientific, industry, and public input on the role of flavoring agents in tobacco products, she said. In addition, multiple reports have been issued on the role of flavoring agents, showing that flavoring agents increase tobacco initiation and make tobacco cessation harder, she noted.

“While more scientific information is always welcomed, Commissioner Gottlieb’s call for a new public discussion seeks to hide or ignore the extensive public discussion that has already occurred,” Dr. Neptune said. “In short, Commissioner Gottlieb has more than enough information to take action on flavored nicotine products today.”

agallegos@frontlinemedcom.com

On Twitter @legal_med

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