The Biden Administration is currently mulling over who will ultimately be appointed to the position of FDA Commissioner. The individual appointed to this influential position will be at the helm over the coming crucial period of time during which a great deal will be decided about the future of vaping.
The FDA currently has ahold of around 6 million Premarket Tobacco Product Applications (PMTA's) for everything from vape juice to e-cigarette hardware. The commissioner overseeing the PMTA process will have tremendous influence over how the FDA chooses to approach the process which will ultimately decide what you can and can't vape after September 9th of this year.
While neither candidate is a home run for vapers, one candidate spells almost certain doom while the other may be more likely to pursue a harm reduction policy, leaving more room for vaping to continue.
The FDA is currently headed by Biden pick, Janet Woodcock. Dr. Woodcock was named Acting Commissioner of the FDA on January 20th, 2021. She has had a distinguished career, first joining the FDA in 1986 when she became Director for the Division of Biological Investigational New Drugs at FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. She has held a variety of positions since then and notably played a role in “Operation Warp Speed," lending her expertise to the evaluation of the COVID-19 vaccine which attained an emergency use authorization.
Word on the street is that Dr. Woodcock's previous job position has been filled which means that she's not going back, but that doesn't guarantee that her role as Acting Commissioner is guaranteed to be permanent.
The other contender for FDA Commissioner is Joshua Sharfstein. Sharfstein is a former Deputy Commissioner at the FDA and was reportedly considered for the post of Commissioner by the Obama Administration but was instead appointed Principal Deputy Commissioner. Dr. Sharfstein has also served as Health Commissioner of Baltimore and Secretary of Health and Mental Hygiene in Maryland.
There's also always the possibility that the Biden Administration will appoint a wildcard, someone whose name has not yet been floated for the position.
The two candidates are likely to take very different approaches to overseeing the regulation of vaping products.
Dr. Woodcock's previous background is in pharmaceutical drugs, which means she is much less likely to have a strong and well developed position on vaping. This makes her more likely to defer to Mitch Zeller on matters related to e-cigarettes.
Zeller has served as the Director of the Center for Tobacco Products since March, 2013. Although he has been accused by harm reduction advocates of "speaking out of both sides of his mouth," he has at least paid lip service to the potential of vaping as part of a larger tobacco harm reduction strategy.
Zeller may not be our biggest ally, but he is the only ally we have. A Commissioner that defers to Zeller's vision for vaping regulation is far preferable to one who might ignore it or even replace him, something within the power of the newly appointed Commissioner.
Dr. Sharfstein, on the other hand, is more likely to take a stronger position against vaping, potentially using his power at the FDA to squash vape PMTA applications.
Sharfstein has been called "a Bloomberg guy" by some, due to his ties to billionaire Michael Bloomberg who has aggressively used his vast wealth to push bans on flavored vape products. For example, Bloomberg Philanthropies gave a $160 million grant to The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, with the funds earmarked to lobby for legislation that would ban flavored vape products nationwide.
Sharfstein has also been a vocal critic of the American Medical Association, criticizing it for giving campaign contributions to politicians and political candidates who have in any way pushed back against the regulation of tobacco products. While some of Sharfstein's positions have undoubtedly been noble, with his connections to Bloomberg, he is much more likely to push the FDA to take a hard line approach to the PMTA process, resulting in far fewer if any flavored vape products surviving the FDA approval process.
Vapers can but wait and hope that the Biden Administration will chose a Commissioner who respects the rights of adult vapers and understands the potential of vaping to support a larger tobacco harm reduction strategy rather than one who may view their tenure as Commissioner as a way to enact the point of view and policy of a billionaire who wants to lump vaping in the same category as tobacco cigarettes without acknowledging the differences between them.