Despite the announcement of Scott Gottlieb’s sudden resignation from the Food and Drug Administration earlier this month, the FDA commissioner said he remains confident that tighter regulation of the e-cigarette and tobacco industries following his departure will continue. And that means Juul isn’t off the hook just yet.
In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box this week, Gottlieb said that policies he’s initiated while in his role will move forward as planned, including proposed restrictions the FDA issued Wednesday that would restrict the sale of flavored e-cig products. Asked specifically about meetings he had this week with big tobacco giant Altria and Juul—two companies he’s specifically zeroed in on in recent months after their $12.8 billion deal last year—he reiterated prior statements he’s made that if youth vaping numbers continue to rise as they have been, vape products could risk getting yanked from the market.
“If the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey—which we’re in the field with right now collecting that data—shows another spike in teen use, we’re going to be back making new policy in the fall. And one of the things that we’re going to have to examine is whether we take the entire category of pod-based e-cigarettes off the market,” he said. “At some point, the youth use of those products becomes so intolerable that they have no redeeming public health value, and we’ll just have to sweep the market of those products. And that includes Juul. Those are the products being abused by the children.”
According to a report from the New York Times on Friday, Gottlieb’s departure from the FDA has some big tobacco groups looking to seize on the opportunity. Conservative lobbying groups and retailers that are poised to be impacted by the new vape sale restrictions have reportedly descended on Washington in attempts to try to curb the proposed limitations, which include prohibiting minors in stores where flavored e-cig products are sold as well as implementing age verification systems to prohibit online sales to kids.
“We are committed to reducing youth usage while preserving our opportunity to eliminate combustible cigarettes, the number one cause of preventable death in the world,” Juul said in a statement Wednesday in response to the FDA’s proposed restrictions. “As part of our action plan deployed in November 2018 to keep JUUL products out of the hands of youth, we stopped the sale of flavored JUULpods to retail stores, strengthened our retail compliance and secret shopper program, enhanced our online age-verification, exited our Facebook and Instagram accounts and are continuously working to remove inappropriate third-party social media content.”
Dismantling systems that enable what Gottlieb classifies as an epidemic of youth vaping has been among his highest priorities during his time at the FDA. Gottlieb has come down especially hard on Juul, the preferred vape of choice among teens and a company he has repeatedly accused of reneging on promises to commit to keeping its products out of minors’ hands—particularly after it inked its deal with Marlboro’s maker.
Gottlieb is making some pretty big claims about the future of e-cigs as he’s got one foot out the door. But even with just weeks left in his position, it looks like the fate of Juul and other e-cig products are as yet to be determined.