By Mitch Zeller, J.D.
In March, I became director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) after spending more than three decades working on FDA-related issues, including a seven-year stint at FDA from 1993-2000. From 1997-2000 I was director of the agency’s first Office of Tobacco Programs. Since I’ve rejoined FDA, CTP has made great progress on multiple fronts. I look forward to discussing my strategic goals and priorities in a future blog post, but today I want to share some information about one immediate priority—decisions regarding tobacco product reviews.
Today, for the first time since FDA received the authority to regulate certain tobacco products, the agency has authorized the marketing of two new tobacco products through the substantial equivalence (SE) pathway, while denying the marketing of four other new products.
These actions are unprecedented and mark the start of other forthcoming decisions related to the marketing of new tobacco products. Substantial equivalence is one pathway manufacturers can use to market a new tobacco product. To do so, a manufacturer must establish that their product has the same characteristics as a valid previously marketed tobacco product, what we call a predicate product, or, if the new product has different characteristics, that it does not raise different questions of public health.
SE submissions require rigorous review. FDA has a responsibility to protect public health, and to do so, we work to ensure that any new tobacco product brought to market through the SE pathway will not present more harm to public health than a valid predicate product identified by the manufacturer.
Today’s SE orders allow the marketing of two new Lorillard Tobacco Company tobacco products: Newport Non-Menthol Gold Box 100s and Newport Non-Menthol Gold Box. The agency has found these two products to be substantially equivalent to predicate products, based on the company’s submissions and other readily available science and information that demonstrate that each product will not present more harm to the public health than the predicate.
It is important to emphasize that an SE decision does not mean that the agency considers a product to be safe, nor is it FDA-approved. The SE decision only means that a new product does not raise different questions of public health as compared to the predicate product.
FDA is also issuing the first not substantially equivalent, or NSE, orders denying marketing of four new tobacco products after finding that the products have different characteristics from their predicate products and that the applicant did not adequately show that the new products did not raise different questions of public health.
FDA has been working diligently to review all pending SE submissions. We know it’s taken time, but expect the process will move more quickly in the future as everyone involved gains more experience. FDA has offered feedback to the industry on the requirements for substantial equivalence and will continue to offer such feedback. We have also created a new webpage that tracks SE decisions to date and provides general information on FDA’s pathways to market new tobacco products. Our goal is to work through the remaining SE submissions in a consistent, transparent and predictable manner.
Mitch Zeller, J.D., is the Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.