President Donald Trump called for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to lose its authority to regulate tobacco products in his latest budget request unveiled on Monday.
The proposal from the Trump administration restructures the Center for Tobacco Products as a new federal agency still under the purview of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) but independent of the FDA, and charged with regulating tobacco products including e-cigarettes.
“A new agency with the singular mission on tobacco and its impact on public health would have greater capacity to respond strategically to the growing complexity of new tobacco products,” argues the administration in the budget request sent to Congress. “In addition, this reorganization would allow the FDA Commissioner to focus on its traditional mission of ensuring the safety of the Nation’s food and medical products supply.”
The new director of the agency would require Senate confirmation, similar to the FDA commissioner, “in order to increase direct accountability and more effectively respond to this critical area of public health concern.”
As of now, the Center for Tobacco Products remains under the jurisdiction of the FDA, and separating the two has seen little interest among lawmakers on Capitol Hill. In November, however, Joe Grogan, the head of the president’s Domestic Policy Council, characterized the FDA’s authority over tobacco as a “huge waste of time,” and a “distraction” for the agency. He argued the FDA’s role is to oversee the approval of products that promote public health rather than damage it.
“FDA regulates drugs, which help people… It regulates devices, which help people. Tobacco has no redeeming qualities,” he said.
The FDA has ramped up its efforts to curb the use of e-cigarettes in recent years to combat adolescent vaping but has received pushback from free-market groups and vaping advocates. They point out that the use of the products has been proven the most successful life-saving method of smoking cessation rather than an addictive fad for teens.
At the time of Grogan’s comments, the administration was considering sweeping new measures to curb the use of electronic cigarettes over heightened concerns of what the FDA has declared an “epidemic” in youth vaping and a mysterious lung illness that has been attributed to use of the products. The Centers for Disease Control has maintained that the illness has been primarily the result of THC products distributed on the black market.
By late November, the White House backed away from issuing executive guidance removing nearly all flavored e-cigarette products from the market after internal polling from the Trump campaign showed devastating consequences for the president among Trump’s base.