The Illusion of Progress at the Center for Tobacco Products

Dr. Brian King, the Director of the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), recently shared CTPs perspective on their response to the evaluation of their center by Regan Udall, an independent nonprofit focused on improving the FDA. While Dr. King highlights several “achievements” and future plans, it promotes an illusion that process equals progress, obscuring the ongoing failures and shortcomings of the Center and its interactions with stakeholders in the tobacco industry.

One of the overarching recommendations Dr. King and the Regan Udall Foundation highlighted is the need for transparency. However, the CTP’s efforts in this regard continue to fall short. Establishing an operational strategy to improve transparency and information sharing lacks specific details, leaving stakeholders in the dark about the Center’s actual practices. Furthermore, the promised public meeting to seek stakeholder feedback on the strategic plan has yet to materialize. CTP’s solution for transparency, it would seem, is being established behind closed doors.

The paper highlights CTP’s focus on finalizing rules related to menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars to address health disparities. Yet CTP has failed to analyze the economic consequences to small businesses in these communities, which has led to questions from activists, congressional committees, and federal agencies with oversight responsibility in these areas. This proposed regulation is not an achievement but a continuation of past practices that cut corners, prioritize politics over research, and intentionally overlook the holistic effect of regulation.

Furthermore, premium cigars, with their distinct characteristics, patterns of use, health effects, and non-existent appeal to youth, should not be subjected to the same stringent regulations as other tobacco products. The CTP’s failure to recognize the unique qualities of premium cigars undermines its credibility as an effective regulatory body. The most recent example of this prevailing issue is the Proposed Rule on Tobacco Manufacturing Practices. PCA and our members have significant concerns about the application of the proposed rule and its effect on small family-owned manufacturers and small retail businesses. 

Dr. King emphasizes the importance of science-based public education campaigns to prevent tobacco initiation. However, the paper fails to acknowledge the shortcomings of these campaigns. The limited impact of “The Real Cost” campaign and the lack of measurable outcomes raise questions about the effectiveness of these initiatives, with the primary beneficiary of these programs being ad agencies tasked with developing creative assets for lucrative projects that are not performance-based. Additionally, the lack of stakeholder input in campaign development and the absence of tangible actions to address the concerns of affected communities highlight a disregard for inclusivity and public engagement. Wouldn’t it be prudent for the Center to work with retail stakeholders in developing Tobacco 21 resources?

In addition to the concerns raised above, it is important to note the FDA’s pursuit of increased authority without the direction or consent of Congress. The FDA has expended substantial financial resources and countless staff hours to defend its aggressive stance towards premium cigars, which has resulted in multiple legal defeats in the courts. This pursuit of expanded power and regulatory control over tobacco products goes beyond the FDA’s original mandate and raises questions about the agency’s internal culture. 

Without proper oversight and checks, the FDA’s actions may have far-reaching implications for businesses and consumers alike, warranting a closer examination of the agency’s motivations and the potential consequences of its actions. The release also acknowledges the Center’s discussions with the FDA’s Office of Legislative Affairs about seeking statutory changes to increase their authority. Stakeholders should be wary of this power grab and Members of Congress should consider the ramifications of these proposed changes and also consider alternatives that will put a check on the agencies mission creep. The Center for Tobacco should work to improve existing programs and initiatives before they set a course to expand their authority. More staff, more money, and more authority are not solutions to the myriad of problems identified by the Reagan Udall Foundation. The recent release by the Center is nothing more than window dressing. 

Dr. Brian King’s paper paints a picture of progress and commitment to public health, but a closer examination reveals the illusory nature of these claims. The lack of transparency, unbalanced regulatory approach, and pandering public education campaigns are warning flags that CTP is reluctant to address the Regan Udall recommendations head-on and heading toward business as usual.