The FDA is accepting comments on their proposed rule, “Regulation of Flavors in Tobacco Products.” There is serious concern that the “regulation” will consist of banning many or almost all flavors of e-liquid as well as smokeless tobacco and other products. The Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association is urging all vapers and other product users to submit a comment to try to save flavors (see below for details). There is some urgency to this because it appears that anti-tobacco extremists have launched a successful astroturfing campaign, getting hundreds of thousands of their useful idiots to submit form letters in support of banning flavors.
As of this writing, there are almost 400,000 comments on the docket, most of which appeared in a very short period. To put this in context, the total comments on the original deeming regulation was only in the tens of thousands and the current docket on the regulation of premium cigars has less than 8,000. The current docket on the FDA’s concept paper on black markets currently has only 29 comments. There are unconfirmed reports that anti-tobacco extremist, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is behind the astroturfing.
Anti-tobacco organizations and front groups (e.g., “You’re the Cure” which is really the American Heart Association) have put out calls for comments and provide a link to the docket. This has presumably generated dozens or hundreds of authored comments. But the sheer number means there must now be an active “click twice to send your message”-type campaign (presumably based on private email lists rather than advertising because the pro-vaping groups responding to this are unaware of the details of the astroturfing effort). It is currently impossible to know exactly how many of the comments are part of this campaign since only about 5% of the submissions to date have been published, but it seems safe to assume that most are. This is possibly the largest ever attempt by non-stakeholders to influence FDA rulemaking.
CASAA is urging vapers, smokeless tobacco users, and other interested parties to submit a comment. They offer suggestions for writing a comment, at any of several levels of effort and detail, and how to submit it here. At the very least, they ask vapers to personalize and automatically send a form they have published. The docket can be found here here (“Comment Now!” button) for anyone wishing to comment but not wishing to follow CASAA’s path (suggestion: if your comment is more than a few hundred words, write it in a word processor file and upload it as an attachment, or copy-paste if it fits, rather than typing in the sometimes wonky web form).
Personalized comments are the ideal contribution. They provide more information, which CASAA Executive Director Alex Clark says they hope to use for other efforts also. In addition, each unique comment must be read by a real person. The FDA is not exactly known for caring at all about the primary stakeholders, consumers, but in a normal comment process, each fully personal comment counts as much as a hundred or a thousand two-click comments. Though the FDA leadership is predisposed toward bans, the agency is made of human beings, and some of them will find it hard to ignore hundreds of heartfelt personal appeals. The identical comments from the astroturf campaign will simply be tallied by a computer algorithm. (CASAA’s form falls somewhere in between thanks to the personalization; it is not clear whether it will be treated as personal comments, which FDA is required to read, or will be tallied as if it were a mere click-to-sign form letter).
Should the ban be enacted, we will ironically find ourselves in the world that is addressed by that black market paper that has 29 comments. As previously reported, this paper demonstrates an absurd failure to understand how a flavor ban will create enormous illicit trade and mix-it-yourself manufacture. The ratio of the comment numbers is a tribute to the tobacco control mindset of campaigning furiously to impose aggressive rules while spending almost no time considering what the actual effect of those rules might be.