Credit: Steve Jackson of Smoky Mountain Vapes with this post. Thanks, Steve, on behalf of the entire community for contacting Sen Johnson’s office!
The deadline for the Food and Drug Administration’s response to an inquiry from the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs requesting justification for a defacto ban on vapor products that would end an industry of an estimated 30,000 small businesses, came and went yesterday at 5pm eastern time with nothing reported by the Committee on their website or by the news media. I made a phone call to their headquarters this morning and was sent to a voicemail box which I feared would be the end of my search for information. My fears were completely unfounded. About an hour after my message, I received a phone call from Mr. Scott Witmann, a staffer who works closely with Sen. Johnson.
Words can not express how impressive Mr. Witmann’s knowledge of the dynamics of the FDA Final Ruling Deeming Vapor Products as Tobacco is. He reports he is neither a vapor nor has ever been a smoker, but there was no difference in his level of awareness of this situation than that of any of the very well informed advocacy figures with whom I’ve had the pleasure of speaking. I wanted to write notes on the conversation while it was still fresh in my mind.
Mr. Wittmann reports the FDA did not respond. They did not indicate a need for more time to respond or attempt to schedule an appointment. He was completely professional in our entire conversation, but my interpretation is the FDA simply snubbed the Committee. I don’t find this surprising considering the dead-to-rights violations of federal laws protecting small businesses in the FDA’s own writing on the matter.
Mr. Wittmann was intensely interested in my experience as a former smoker who now exclusively vapes and also my experience as the owner of a small shop with 4 employees. He asked about our customers and seemed to be genuinely interested in expanding his understanding of our struggles and the possible future of the industry both with and without the FDA’s defacto ban on our existence.
I asked him what the next steps are for the Committee. He reports there are several steps to take with clear historic examples of how to proceed. The initial steps are simply “louder” requests, but should those requests remained unfulfilled, the eventual endpoint is a subpoena creating the opportunity for FDA management to be formally charged with contempt of Congress.
I asked him what the Committee’s specific powers were to enforce changes on the FDA’s ruling. A direct answer to this question is too complicated for a simple phone call, most likely over-complicated because of the two centuries of precedence fueled by political maneuvering. But the general summary I can give from our conversation is direct action by the Committee will likely not be necessary.
The Committee seeks first to expose information for the public. This information then becomes available to private interests who can and are filing lawsuits to stop the FDA. The Committee’s expectation is these lawsuits will be successful and they see their role as helping to bring relevant information to light to make these lawsuits easier to pursue.
In the end, I am completely elated to have had an experience much different than I expected. Instead of a terse, rehearsed brush off with soulless reassurances the “leaders” were working at a level I could not understand, I engaged in a genuine conversation with a man fighting for interests he did not directly share. Mr. Wittmann and Sen. Johnson are working on behalf of Americans. That is the interest group they hope to protect. They are working to promote the entire country’s freedom to choose.
Mr. Wittmann, I believe, now has a greater understanding of how the vapor product industry affects all Americans more directly than he initially understood. Our freedoms need protected, but on a closer level, the outcry from the vaping community to the Committee has produced a greater understanding of the opportunity to truly improve the public health by reducing or eliminating tobacco’s well-known harm and previously-unstoppable perpetuation.
Mr. Wittmann also said he briefs Sen. Johnson on all conversations and my comments and support of the Committee in this matter would be expressed and is appreciated. To the vaping community, I am happy to say my impression is we, as a community, have gained a true ally in our fight. We, as a community, have been “surprising”, “passionate”, and “compelling”. The positive image we have managed to bring to the Committee has made a difference.
Vape on and stay strong,