The moral panic over youth use of vapor products has been running at a fever pitch since last fall, and the city of San Francisco California seeks to take things to the next level.
After banning the sale of flavored tobacco products last year, The city seeks to enforce a total ban on any vapor products in the city until the FDA regulation process fully kicks in. This means that residents may be without local and online access to vapes until something, anything, gets the official FDA stamp of approval.
It is important to note that the city has taken no such action on cigarettes.
The law being proposed to the Board of Supervisors would keep all vapes off the market in San Francisco until they receive marketing approval from the FDA. No vapor manufacturer has yet completed a premarket tobacco application (PMTA) to the FDA, because of the prohibitive cost and the uncertainty that any product could ever be approved. FDA marketing approval requires applicants to prove that their products are “appropriate for the protection of public health.”
“By law, before a new tobacco product goes to market,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “the Food and Drug Administration is supposed to conduct a review to evaluate its impact on public health. Inexplicably, the FDA has failed to do its job when it comes to e-cigarettes. Until the FDA does so, San Francisco has to step up. These products should not be on our shelves until the FDA has reviewed the threat they pose to public health.” Unfortunately, Mr. Herrera's comments ignore the plethora of research on that exact topic. At this late junction, the debate over harm reduction shouldn't be this complicated.
E-cigarettes and other vaping products have been sold in the U.S. since at least 2008 — eight years before the FDA asserted regulatory authority over them, and set a schedule for existing products to go through costly, time consuming, and uncertain outcomes from a “premarket” review. There is rich irony in forcing existing vapor products to retroactively prove their value when known-deadly cigarettes are allowed to remain on the market without challenge. Again, the city is not proposing to ban cigarettes.
San Francisco has joined New York City and Chicago to demand the FDA summarily enforce all components of the Deeming Rule, and immediately demand PMTA’s from all manufacturers. The three cities are threatening to sue the federal agency if it doesn’t agree to the cities’ demands; something several large tobacco control groups also sued over, that has yet to be decided.
It would seem politicians and public health officials have completely abandoned the goal of reducing the disease and death caused by combustible tobacco. Is another attempted prohibition really going to solve the problems caused by cigarettes? Or are we sacrificing the immense potential of harm reduction for a puritan sense of duty to our youth?