The U.S. Senate last week confirmed President Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Scott Gottlieb, M.D., a physician and venture capitalist investor. As with all things Trump, the choice of Gottlieb was controversial. Democrats were not happy about Gottlieb’s financial ties to dozens of pharmaceutical and medical device companies that the FDA is charged with overseeing.
But within the vaping industry, Gottlieb’s confirmation has been perceived as something of a hopeful sign. The FDA is currently developing regulations for e-cigarettes and other such products. And many companies are deeply worried that the FDA will bend to the will of anti-smoking advocates who want vaping regulated out of existence.
It is true that overall Gottlieb is a pretty vape-friendly guy to be running the FDA. He’s was a high-profile investor in the vaping company Kure. He held a resident fellowship at a conservative think tank where he developed a close relationship with Dr. Sally Satel, a leading advocate for the idea that vaping could save lives by curbing the public’s appetite for traditional cigarette smoking.
Gottlieb has also posted a number of tweets over the years (a few of which credit Dr. Satel as the source) that would seem to indicate a pro-vaping mindset:
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Gottlieb is clearly against an outright ban on vaping, and he does not seem inclined to use the FDA rule-making process to crush vaping into oblivion. However, that does not mean he will necessarily be a friend to the average vaping consumer or small business that develops vaping products. Gottlieb is a close ally of big business and will likely act in the interest of large corporations rather than the little guy.
In 2013, Gottlieb wrote a column for Forbes that chastised anti-smoking advocates for trying to destroy the tobacco industry entirely. He argued that all parties should work together to find a regulatory compromise so that tobacco companies could transition to making less harmful products than traditional cigarettes, such as vaping devices. And that is indeed vape-friendly point of view. However, despite the fact that Gottlieb wants to see more vaping in the world, his column is almost entirely focused on a solution in which the e-cigarettes are manufactured by large corporations.
There doesn’t seem to be much room in Gottlieb’s venture capital worldview for small businesses. All indications point to the new FDA commissioner being on board with the tobacco industry’s plan to crush smaller vaping companies with regulations so that the big boys can take over their entire market share. And perhaps that shouldn’t be too surprising.
President Trump appointed Gottlieb and his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, to do one thing: dismantle Obamacare. Gottlieb’s views on vaping were probably not a factor in his appointment. What’s more, Gottlieb and Price have both had a big role in health policy over the years while actively investing in medical companies. Price has even gotten in hot water for buying stock in a company, then introducing a deregulation bill the following day to benefit his new investment. Gottlieb has never been accused of anything quite that shady, but his clear love of making money suggests that he may also be for sale to the highest bidder. And if there’s one thing Big Tobacco has a lot of, it’s money.
Nevertheless, Gottlieb does have one core belief that could benefit smaller vaping manufacturers, and that’s that the FDA should speed up its drug approval process. He’s a free marketer. In his many columns and blog posts, Gottlieb has made it very clear that he feels like the drug prices are being artificially inflated by a burdensome bureaucracy that does little to safeguard public health. Apply that same logic to vaping, and maybe Gottlieb would be open to reducing the hoops that a vaping company would have to jump through to get approval for a new product.
The current fear among small vaping companies is that the FDA will really go through with its million-dollar approval process for each new vaping product, meaning only the Phillip Morrises of the world could afford to legally manufacture e-cigarettes and e-juices. If Gottlieb is a true believer in the free market, then it’s possible he would want to make it as easy as possible to safely produce new vaping products. But then again, some guys who claim to believe in the power of the free market are really just profiteering assholes. Gottlieb has a chance to prove or disprove if he is one of them.