• May 26, 2024

Momentum Building in U.S. for Regulating Synthetic Nicotine

 Momentum Building in U.S. for Regulating Synthetic Nicotine
Photo: Aliaksandr Barouski

Momentum appears to be building for the regulation of synthetic nicotine in the United States.

On Dec. 15, U.S. Representative Mikie Sherrill introduced a bill designed to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate synthetic nicotine products just as it regulates nicotine products made or derived from tobacco.

“This bill will ensure all tobacco products, including products made with synthetic nicotine, are regulated by the FDA in order to protect kids in our communities and those who may seek to use these products,” Sherrill said in a statement.

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) currently defines “tobacco product” as “any product made or derived from tobacco that is intended for human consumption, including any component, part or accessory of a tobacco product.”

In November, FDA Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller suggested synthetic nicotine could be considered a component of e-cigarettes, which would allow the agency to regulate it.

The FDA could also seek to regulate synthetic nicotine as a drug. The FDCA defines drugs, among other things, as “articles (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body.”

In the 1990s, the FDA tried to regulate nicotine as a drug and cigarettes and smokeless tobacco as “drug delivery devices.” In FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the U.S. Supreme Court found that the FDA lacked such authority.

The 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. Should the FDA regulate synthetic nicotine as a drug today, it could point to recent legislation from Congress giving the FDA a role in this space more broadly. So far, however, the FDA has not taken this approach.

Following a flurry of marketing denial orders in which the FDA forced many products containing tobacco-derived nicotine off the market, several manufacturers have switched to synthetic nicotine to avoid the agency’s rigorous and costly premarket review process.

In response to such moves, lawmakers have initiated investigations and called for regulation of the category. On Nov. 16, nine senators sent a letter to the FDA imploring the agency to regulate synthetic nicotine products. The authors expressed concerns that e-cigarette manufacturers like Puff Bar are switching to synthetic nicotine to skirt FDA oversight and premarket review requirements to continue selling their products—including flavored products—that they assert appeal to youth.

That same day, the North Carolina attorney general launched an investigation into Puff Bar. On Nov. 8, he sent letters to e-cigarette manufacturers Puff Bar and Next Generation Labs requesting extensive records pertaining to the production and marketing of the companies’ synthetic nicotine products.