Advancing Tobacco Regulation to Protect Children and Families: Updates and New Initiatives from the FDA on the Anniversary of the Tobacco Control Act and FDA’s Comprehensive Plan for Nicotine

By: Scott Gottlieb, M.D., and Mitch Zeller, J.D.

This summer marks nine years since the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (TCA) was signed into law, and one year since we announced the FDA’s Comprehensive Plan for Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation. This comprehensive plan places nicotine, and the issue of addiction, at the center of the agency’s tobacco regulation efforts. The multi-year roadmap provides a framework for regulating nicotine and tobacco and is designed to reframe the conversation around nicotine and harm reduction.

A principal reason people continue to smoke cigarettes — despite the dangers — is nicotine. Our plan recognizes that nicotine isn’t directly responsible for the morbidity and mortality from tobacco, but creates and sustains addiction to cigarettes. It’s the delivery mechanism for nicotine that’s more directly linked to the product’s dangers. That’s why our plan focuses on minimizing addiction to the most harmful products while encouraging innovation in those products that could provide adult smokers access to nicotine without the harmful consequences of combustion and cigarettes.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Over the past year, we’ve taken important steps toward fully implementing this plan as part of our overarching goal: a world where cigarettes can no longer create or sustain addiction, and where adults who still seek nicotine could get it from potentially less harmful sources. In implementing this comprehensive plan, we’ve already issued three important advance notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) that have the potential to reframe the tobacco landscape. These ANPRMs focus on:

  • The potential development of a product standard to lower nicotine in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels – which could make it harder for future generations to become addicted in the first place and could allow more currently addicted smokers to quit more easily or switch to potentially less harmful products. Given their combination of toxicity, addictiveness, prevalence and effect on non-users, it’s clear that to maximize the possible public health benefits of our regulatory tools granted to us under the Tobacco Control Act, we must focus our efforts on the death and disease caused by addiction to combustible cigarettes. We believe this pivotal public health step has the potential to dramatically reduce smoking rates and save millions of lives;
  • The role that flavors – including menthol – play in initiation, use and cessation of tobacco products. Input on these issues will assist in the consideration of the most impactful regulatory options the FDA could pursue to achieve the greatest public health benefit. We’re proceeding in a science-based fashion, building a strong administrative record by securing more information about the potential positives and negatives of flavors in both youth initiation and in getting adult smokers to quit or transition to potentially less harmful products; and,
  • The patterns of use and resulting public health impacts from what are often referred to as “premium” cigars to inform the agency’s regulatory policies.

The public comment periods for all three ANPRMs, which were extended by 30 additional days to allow more time for submissions, have now closed. We are beginning the process of reviewing those comments.

Mitch Zeller, J.D., Director of FDA's Center for Tobacco Products

Mitchell Zeller, J.D., Director of FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

At the same time, the FDA is also pursuing additional new policies as part of our comprehensive plan as well as our ongoing commitment to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our tobacco regulatory programs.

Part of these efforts are aimed at making the pathway for developing nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products more efficient to promote the development of novel NRT products. The agency’s efforts to re-evaluate and modernize its approach to the development and regulation of NRT products is aimed at opening up new pathways for the development of improved products, regulated as new drugs, that demonstrate that they are safe and effective for the purpose of helping smokers quit.

Many of our new efforts, as part of our comprehensive plan, are aimed at using our existing authorities under the TCA to minimize addiction to the most harmful products, principally cigarettes, while encouraging innovation in new products that may offer adults less harmful forms of nicotine delivery.

A key part of achieving these goals is issuing foundational rules and guidances to help industry better understand what is needed to submit product applications. At the same time, we are pursuing new efforts to improve the transparency and efficiency of the premarket review process.

These important foundational steps are a key element of our efforts to advance the pre-market review of tobacco products. This review is one of the most important responsibilities we have. It’s how we can assess new products and their potential impact on the public health. This is our opportunity to determine how a product may positively or negatively affect both non-users and current users. So, it’s crucial that we continually improve in this area and have a transparent and efficient process.

To address these goals, we’re committing to a number of steps, some new, to respond to stakeholders and to make the regulatory process more efficient, predictable, and transparent for industry, while also advancing the agency’s public health mission. Establishing a rigorous, predictable, science-based framework for the premarket review of tobacco products is a key element of our program.

Among the steps that we are pursuing to better achieve these goals:

  • Proposing foundational rules: We all need to be on the same page regarding the basic “rules of the road,” especially when it comes to what’s expected in premarket applications. We’re working to propose new rules to help industry on topics including Substantial Equivalence, Premarket Tobacco Applications, Modified Risk Tobacco Product Applications, and Tobacco Product Manufacturing Practices. We will begin publishing these foundational proposed rules in the coming months. They will lay out a transparent, modern, and science-based framework for manufacturing practices and the development of tobacco product applications that meet the legal requirements.
  • Holding a public meeting on premarket review: Within the next few months, the FDA will hold a public meeting on the premarket application and review process. The goal of the meeting is to solicit comments on our processes and provide a dedicated venue for specific suggestions on how to further improve them. Potential topics for discussion include: how to achieve greater efficiencies in review, while continuing to protect public health; how to review products that are rendered “new” due to changes made to comply with a product standard; and, how to facilitate greater company consultation with the FDA prior to submitting applications.
  • Exploring opportunities for premarket review efficiencies through rulemaking and guidance and new administrative steps to modernize and improve the review process: The FDA is taking additional steps to pursue the shared interest with industry of increased flexibility and efficiencies within the application review process. If carefully developed, rulemaking and guidance efforts in this area could help ensure that our public health standards for premarket review are met while mutually benefiting both the industry and the FDA. For example, an opportunity may exist to allow for faster and cheaper development of products that will benefit public health. In the months ahead, the FDA intends to explore what improvements can be made along these lines within our existing legal authorities. We also plan to advance a comprehensive suite of improvements to the review process, as part of a Regulatory Modernization, to make our program more efficient, transparent, predictable, and efficient. We will unveil these programmatic reforms in advance of our upcoming public meeting.

These programmatic and process improvements are aimed at solidifying the FDA’s regulatory pathways and improving its predictability and transparency. As the FDA advances its regulatory approach to these important public health considerations, it’s critical that we keep in mind a bedrock principle: No kids should be using any tobacco or nicotine-containing products, including e-cigarettes.

Protecting our nation’s youth from the dangers of tobacco products is among the most important responsibilities of the FDA. That is why we recently launched our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan.

We look at the marketplace for tobacco products today and see increasing concern from parents, educators, and health professionals about the alarming youth use of tobacco products like JUUL and other e-cigarettes. Our mission at the FDA is to protect the public’s health, and we want to assure the public we’re using all of our tools and authorities to quickly tackle this public health threat. We will not allow our efforts to give manufacturers time to file premarket applications with FDA — that are informed by the foundational rules and guidance that we’re now advancing — to become a back door for allowing products with high levels of nicotine to cause a new generation of kids to get addicted to nicotine and hooked on tobacco products.

Our Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan reflects our commitment to address these risks. Congress gave us many powerful authorities, including enforcement, product standards, premarket review, sales and promotion restrictions, and public education. We’ll use every tool available to protect our nation’s kids.

We’ve already announced several vigorous enforcement actions and education efforts aimed at addressing youth use of nicotine, and e-cigarettes in particular. More such actions are imminent. Among the steps we’ve already taken are: sending warning letters to companies for selling e-liquids resembling juice boxes, candies and cookies; sending warning letters to retailers for selling JUUL e-cigarettes to underage youth; working with eBay to remove Internet listings for JUUL, and with other e-cigarette manufacturers to help the FDA better understand the youth appeal of these products; and, creating the  first e-cigarette public education ad, with a full-scale advertising campaign to begin this fall.

These are important first steps. But we still need to do more to address use of tobacco products by kids. That’s why we’re working to quickly advance the following three new initiatives:

  • Expediting action on flavors: The issue of flavors, including flavored e-cigarettes and e-liquids, is at the forefront of any discussion of youth use. However, some flavored tobacco products may also play a role in helping some adults quit smoking cigarettes. Now that the comment period has closed, we intend to expedite the review and analysis of the comments so that we can leverage the information into policy as quickly as possible, should the science support further action.
  • Developing an e-cigarette product standard: The FDA has also begun exploring a product standard for e-cigarettes to help address existing concerns. As part of the standard, the agency will consider, among other things, levels of toxicants and impurities in propylene glycol, glycerin, and nicotine in e-liquids. While the process for establishing a product standard takes time, we recognize the urgency in setting some minimum, common sense standards, and will work to address this on an accelerated timeline.
  • Exploring ways to accelerate enforcement: We’re also looking at ways that the FDA can act even more efficiently when we become aware of violations affecting youth use of e-cigarettes, such as illegal product marketing to youth. We need to be faster and more agile when we identify new risks. We’ve also become aware of reports that some companies may be marketing new products that were introduced after the FDA’s compliance period and have not gone through premarket review. These products are being marketed both in violation of the law and outside of the FDA’s announced compliance policies. We take these reports very seriously. Companies should know that the FDA is watching and we will take swift action wherever appropriate. We are evaluating new ways to strengthen our partnership with sister agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission. We will also announce a robust series of additional enforcement actions in the coming months.

We have made great strides since we first unveiled our Comprehensive Plan for Tobacco and Nicotine Regulation last year. The components of this program we have outlined are intended to work as an integrated package of reform. We will pursue all of these policies simultaneously. Each is interconnected. Each element supports the others. We intend to achieve all of the elements.

We remain on track to meet our ambitious goals. But there is still much work to be done.

The staff at the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products is working hard to use our available tools to protect Americans from the harms of being addicted to tobacco products. And today, we’re committing to redoubling our efforts. Too many kids are still starting to use tobacco products and getting addicted. And, too many adults are still struggling to quit or to switch to less harmful options. To reduce the disease and death caused by tobacco use, the FDA will do everything within our power to help all ages.

Scott Gottlieb, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration 

Mitch Zeller, J.D., is Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products

 Follow Commissioner Gottlieb on Twitter @SGottliebFDA

Follow the FDA Center for Tobacco Products on Twitter  https://twitter.com/FDATobacco

 

Working Together to Reduce the Devastating Effects of Opioid Misuse

By Robert M. Califf, M.D.

The public health crisis of opioid misuse, addiction and overdose is one of the most challenging issues the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has faced during my time as FDA commissioner.  Solving this issue is critical to our future.

The issues cut across every socioeconomic level and geographic boundary. It would be difficult to identify any community in America that has not been touched by friends, family members or colleagues suffering from addiction, and far too often, losing their lives to it. As I leave the agency as part of the presidential transition, I have reflected on what I have seen, how far the nation has come, and the important work that remains for both the public and private sectors.

Robert CaliffI’ve made it a point to see affected communities, first-hand, because interventions and national policy solutions work best when they are well informed by what communities actually need. Just last week, I visited Baltimore to better understand how our cities are being affected – in this case, by an inflow of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is about 100 times more potent than many other prescription opioids, and can be deadly on its first use. I have also visited the neonatal intensive care unit, or “NICU” of a Tennessee hospital where babies were screaming and shaking in the pain of withdrawal because they were born with Neonatal Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome. I have met people in West Virginia who did back-breaking work in power plants or in coal mines; after suffering on-the-job injuries they were first afflicted with pain, then by addiction. They got prescription pain relief but, too often, it wasn’t accompanied by the proper support and counseling. In Kentucky, I spoke to spouses and families whose lives have been forever changed by addiction, even as the community rallied together to fight it. And, much closer to home, I have heard personal stories from FDA employees and providers in local health care facilities, whose families and friends are not immune.

We have taken a number of actions at the FDA over the past several years to help reduce the number of people who become addicted, or who ultimately overdose from prescription opioids. We’ve improved product labeling, pushed for prescriber education, and encouraged the development of abuse-deterrent formulations. In addition, we have approved new intranasal and auto-injector forms of naloxone — products to reverse opioid overdoses, which can be administered by laypersons and are, therefore, better available able to save lives.

I’m also proud of the partnerships we have formed with other federal Agencies and the work that has resulted from them. But the latest data, including data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) remind us that while some progress is being made, there is more to do. For example, it is promising to see that the nationally estimated number of outpatient prescriptions dispensed for Schedule II opioids decreased by 10 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to IMS Health. However, the CDC reports that while the rate of overdose deaths associated with prescription opioid use increased by just 4 percent instead of by 9 percent the previous year, deaths associated with heroin use have skyrocketed. Clearly, more work needs to be done.

As I prepare to turn over the awesome responsibility of FDA commissioner to the next Administration, I feel compelled to point out that public and private sector efforts in this area must be continued and strengthened. In particular, I want to call on the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and sell these drugs to dig deeper into their expertise and resources to prioritize finding solutions to this public health problem. I have consistently been impressed that the motivation to cure disease and improve quality of life for patients is shared across the spectrum of federal agencies, public health workers, health care providers and scientists within the pharmaceutical industry. However, the financial incentives in the industry can lead to a focus on short-term profits instead of patient well-being.This is the time for both branded and generic drug companies  to go beyond marketing and distribution plans and instead commit their expertise and resources to  confronting  the devastating negative consequences of a class of drugs that brings much needed pain relief, when used appropriately.

Specifically, I urge us all to focus on the following priorities:

  1. Encouraging appropriate prescribing by healthcare practitioners. Too many people become addicted from unnecessary prescriptions for minor pain or injury. And even appropriately prescribed opioids can lead to addiction, so careful monitoring of patients prescribed these powerful drugs is needed. While there are situations where opioids are appropriate, there are also situations where other alternatives can be effective. Therefore, conversations between provider and patient about the pain treatment plan are imperative. If an opioid is appropriate, CDC guidelines and FDA labeling emphasize the need to start on the lowest dose and minimum time necessary, and carefully monitoring patients for signs of addiction and inadequate pain control.
  1. Considering the family as well as the patient. Pain treatment, and use of opioid drugs, will be more successful when the family is involved. It will result in fewer drugs diverted from the medicine chest, fewer babies born addicted to opioids and better treatment of pain. Women who use or abuse opioids, or who are in treatment for opioid addiction, should talk to their health care provider before considering pregnancy.
  1. Finding better ways to treat pain with new medications and with more holistic pain management. It’s time to put more resources into the development of non-opioid, non-addictive medications to help people who are in serious, debilitating pain. We need more research to define the most effective non-medication approaches to pain and how to deliver them in a complex and financially constrained healthcare system.
  1. Improving how companies, professional societies and academics communicate about their activities in this area. I urge companies to commit to transparent and appropriate company communications and to work with government and others in the community to do a better job in educating the medical professionals responsible for treating our nation’s pain, as part of the overarching effort to do everything possible to help prevent addiction. Professional societies and academic medical centers also need to continue their efforts at educating their members and examining their practices to find ways to improve. For example, the education of the next generation of physicians about how best to manage pain is critical.
  1. Finding new ways to curb diversion and misuse of opioids. In addition to our continuing efforts to help support the development of abuse-deterrent formulations, the FDA is exploring potential packaging, storage, delivery, and disposal solutions that companies and other stakeholders might consider that would prevent opioids from being diverted to those without a legitimate prescription for these powerful drugs. I implore companies to conduct research and offer their creative ideas and resources to innovate in this area.
  1. Increasing pragmatic research to better understand how to implement appropriate pain therapy in general and use of opioids in particular. Post-market requirements from FDA that mandate industry-funded studies and recent pragmatic research efforts by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute and the NIH and Department of Defense are expected to provide important data, but we need more robust evidence to better guide practice. Pain is a vexing issue that seems to fall between the cracks in research funding; we need to keep the pressure on funding entities to move pain to the forefront as a research issue.
  1. Treating addiction as a disease, not as criminal behavior. We have the tools to treat addiction and reverse overdose from opioids and are working to develop more of them. But there’s a lot we don’t know about the drivers for drug abuse, and scientific knowledge will help us make better decisions. This is one reason why we need companies with products on the market to monitor the safety of those drugs and make their data public. We have mandated post-market studies to define major questions about chronic use of opioids, and it is essential that industry fulfills these requirements.

I am proud to have been part of the effort that’s changing the tide on this epidemic, but the nation has a long way to go.Government, companies, healthcare systems and healthcare providers all have important roles to play. The most recent data reminds us it’s time to double down on these efforts. While I won’t have the good fortune of leading this fight in an official capacity, I’m proud of the work the FDA and others have done so far. I leave FDA’s efforts to the many leaders at the agency who have been working tirelessly on this issue — and will continue doing so — and look forward to supporting public and private efforts to bring this epidemic to an end.

Robert M. Califf, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Proposed Rule Would Expand FDA’s Tobacco Control Authority

By: Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D.

Today we usher in a new chapter in FDA’s role in tobacco control, which began nearly five years ago when the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act enabled us to regulate certain tobacco products, including cigarettes and smokeless tobacco. Now, FDA has proposed a rule that would extend our authority to additional products meeting the legal definition of a tobacco product. This would include electronic cigarettes, some or all cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (hookah) tobacco and dissolvables not already under the FDA’s authority, as well as future tobacco products.

Margaret Hamburg, M.D.The tobacco product marketplace is evolving at a dizzying pace with many unanswered questions about the health effects of novel products. Especially in the shadow of alarming increases in the number of youths using unregulated products like electronic cigarettes and cigars, it’s more crucial than ever to help prevent early tobacco use that could lead to a lifetime of nicotine addiction. The proposed rule—which would “deem” other tobacco products to be subject to FDA authority—is poised to help make that happen.

FDA is committed to protecting public health. Expanding our authority over tobacco products gives FDA additional tools to help reduce the number of illnesses and premature deaths associated with the use of tobacco products. Under FDA’s proposal, these powerful regulatory tools would include age restrictions, rigorous review of new tobacco products and claims, and health warnings.

“Deeming” – and the new health warning requirements included in the proposed rule – would also help to correct a misperception by consumers that tobacco products not regulated by FDA are safe alternatives to currently regulated tobacco products. Equally important, “deeming” would allow FDA to issue future regulations regarding these products, including regulations to reduce their harmfulness, if we determine that would be appropriate to protect public health.

As we work to finalize the proposed rule, we welcome comments and will consider all that are submitted, as well as any data, research and other information submitted to the docket for this proposed rule.

For more information:

Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D., is Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration