US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, dubbed “the vape industry’s worst nightmare,” has issued letters to two vape companies and released a statement saying that he will lead an investigation into synthetic nicotine. The letters, packed with emotive language, call for Puff Bar and Next Generation Labs LLC to submit information regarding the production and inclusion of synthetic nicotine in their products, which must be provided by 22nd November 2021.
Krishnamoorthi has a long history of demonizing the vaping industry and has long been associated with the misguided organization, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. While the focus of his efforts is apparently geared around protecting the nation’s youth, adults who are trying to quit will be unduly penalized.
Synthetic Nicotine: What’s the Deal?
By now, most vapers will be acutely aware of the harmful laws and regulations that are being enacted regarding the sale and production of vaping equipment. Marketing Denial Orders (MDO’s) have been issued to the vast majority of those suppliers who submitted an application.
With an amendment to the term ‘tobacco products’, found in section 101 of the Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act, the FDA decided that vaping liquids fell under the definition of a tobacco product, allowing them to control and regulate vaping products similarly to cigarettes (albeit not in quite the same way, as you can still buy combustible tobacco).
With this amendment came numerous laws and regulations surrounding vaping products, the most notorious being the Pre-Market Tobacco Product Applications(PMTAs). Vaping companies would have to submit applications to the FDA for each of their products, testing that requires expensive and rigorous testing to prove that their products are “appropriate for the protection of public health”.
But some eliquid and disposable vape manufacturers spotted an inconsistency in the wording of the regulations that would allow them to carry on trading.
The ‘get out of jail free card’?
While the nicotine used in eliquids has traditionally been extracted from a tobacco plant, synthetic nicotine is made entirely in a lab and can be considered 100% tobacco-free.
Think of it a little like this.
Coffee and energy drinks both contain caffeine. The coffee you drink is made from roasted beans grown on a plant. The caffeine you drink in cans of energy drinks is entirely synthesized. Same compound, different process.
It’s exactly the same with nicotine.
Vape producers, such as Puff Bar and Next Generation Labs, have used this knowledge to manufacture products that are not tobacco-derived. Not tobacco-derived equals not a tobacco product, right?
Not according to Congressman Krishnamoorthi.
‘Vile Decisions’ and Bad Actors: How Congress Gets It Wrong
The warning letter to Puff Bar is littered with emotive and zealous language.
Here are a few choice excerpts: –
- “You have apparently made the vile decision to continue enriching yourselves by poisoning children.”
- “I intend to put an end to your predatory practices.”
- “Puff Bar should not be allowed to continue harming children due to FDA’s failure to regulate synthetic nicotine.”
The above quotes indicate that Raja Krishnamoorthi’s mind is already made up before any real “investigation”.
Why could the above be said to be misguided?
Well, the law has to be taken at its word. It is written down in black and white. And currently, the law says “Tobacco products”.
According to the current regulations and by Congressman Krishnamoorthi’s own admission in his letter, the FDA, at present, has failed to regulate synthetic nicotine. And as a result, provided the nicotine is synthetically produced, this does not fall under the current regulations.
The reasons for this zealousness are also dubious, and statements are also made that are a little distant from reality.
In the press release issued by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, one of the reasons given in pursuing Next Generation Labs is as follows:
“Next Generation Labs claims its unregulated synthetic nicotine is used in more than 60 vape brands and nicotine products and projects a 1,800% growth in sales this year over 2020.”
The Chair sent a letter to @TFN_Nicotine, which claims to be “the market leader” in the production/sale of synthetic nicotine. Its unregulated synthetic nicotine is used in more than 60 vape brands and nicotine products, projecting a 1,800% growth in sales this year over 2020.
— Oversight Committee (@OversightDems) November 8, 2021
What could have caused such a massive boom in sales?
Could it be the vape industry responding to the fact that as of late September 2021 that the FDA had denied over 1 million premarket applications for e-cigarette products?
Vapers echoed this sentiment:
Why can’t you just leave us vapors that are in our 50’s alone? No Vape Store is selling ANYTHING to teens! Oh wait – you put all the vape stores out of business leaving us older vapors to either look on the black market or go back to cigarettes (along with teenagers).
— Kathy McDermott (@kathymac057) November 10, 2021
As the co-founder of Next Generation Labs, Ron Tully, factually states:
“If the statute has been ill-conceived, and the regulation has been ill-drafted, it is not the responsibility of the industry to conform to some kind of idea that you can’t innovate in those spaces where the legislation doesn’t occur”.
Opinion, bias, and politics aside, Mr. Tully is categorically right.
If Starbucks coffee was outlawed tomorrow, nobody would be admonishing Red Bull, nor would they be surprised that their sales went up. The same principle applies here.
In regards to ‘bad actors,’ Krishnamoorthi makes other demands in his letter to Next Generation Labs. Following a claim made in a presentation produced by the company that tobacco products are being labeled as ‘tobacco free’, the congressman requested details of the companies NGT was referring to.
Unfortunately, he decided to focus on these few sentences in the presentation. Other areas would be particularly worthy of note in his investigation. Things like:
- “TFN® nicotine (tobacco free nicotine) is not extracted from the broader botanical Solanaceae* family of plants related to tobacco such as potato, tomato, papaya, cauliflower, or even from the Australian Hopwoodii shrub.”
- “Products containing TFN have never been subject to an FDA enforcement action in the USA.”
- “Perhaps combinational R-S [synthetically produced] nicotine is a pathway to achieving the FDA goal of offering a non-addictive level of nicotine.”
- “Developing new Product Standards around all isomers of nicotine.”
The last is particularly important. Even the manufacturers of synthetic nicotine have recognized the harms in lower quality black market products, something that heavily restricting vaping could result in.
The FDA, Congress, and Double-Think
There is a glaring disparity in the critical thinking skills behind Krishnamoorthi’s argument.
The committee press release names Puff Bar as “the top children’s e-cigarette brand”.
While the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) does indicate that Puff Bar is used by 26.1% of those who vape in high school, it is well worth noting that these are disposable systems. The second most popular choice (Vuse) is one of the ‘few’ that has just been approved by the FDA. They have stated that the company has reasonably proved that it doesn’t represent a danger to youth.
It should also be noted that, at the present time, Vuse does contain tobacco-derived nicotine.
Considering that Puff Bar and Vuse are extremely similar, both in their method of operation and production, it seems strange that Puff Bar is under such scrutiny.
The Bottom Line
It is easy to get sidetracked by semantics and vague speech. In the case of vaping, both synthetic nicotine and plant-based nicotine are healthier than smoking cigarettes. Rules were introduced, and certain manufacturers sought new ways to legally comply. This is where the conversation should end.
Raja Krishnamoorthi’s puritanical push has little reason to really exist. It has already been shown that youth vaping is a much smaller problem than he and his cheerleaders promote.
The latest push to tighten the loop yet further and once again restrict these products is detrimental to public health, as it will encourage users (regardless of age) to switch to smoking. Nicotine is not the bad guy, and the continued demonization resulting from complete ignorance will produce the opposite to the desired outcome. It will be interesting to see what happens on 22nd November.