Lawmakers Push Back Georgia’s Stealth Ban of Synthetic Nicotine

    On March 7, Georgia’s Senate Committee on Agriculture and Consumer Affairs amended a vape product directory bill, pushing back its effective start date by years. The legislation now moves to the Senate Rules Committee, where lawmakers will discuss it once again.

    The proposed bill, SB 572, would only allow the sale of vapor products authorized by, or pending authorization from, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As Filter previously reported, critics have noted that such a directory would also be a de facto ban on synthetic nicotine, which many small- and medium-size manufacturers have turned to after the FDA denied their applications through its premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) process. Because the agency defines a “tobacco product” as anything “made or derived from tobacco,” it does not yet have regulatory authority over synthetic nicotine. That’s created in a lab, and does not qualify.

    Some manufacturers have seen synthetic nicotine, then, as a sort of “loophole” to keep making the flavored vaping products favored by their adult customers. Puff Bar, a disposable vape company that now appears popular among teens, switched to synthetic nicotine last year. Many, though, reject that “loophole” characterization and insist synthetic nicotine is simply a technological evolution in a rapidly evolving industry that the federal government has failed—time and again—to fully grasp.

    Observers and small business owners have recently framed the synthetic nicotine battle, which is quickly becoming the key tobacco control front in the United States, as one between Big Tobacco and Small Vape. The state senator sponsoring the Georgia bill, Republican Jeff Mullis, has received campaign contributions from Juul Labs—and, at the committee hearing, was joined by Jennifer Cunningham, a lobbyist for the company. Seated next to Mullis, Cunningham explained that the product directory would ensure a safer, better-regulated market.

    “A directory provides the dual benefits of helping to protect against potential health and safety risks from unregulated products and cultivating a responsible marketplace.”

    “We’re just trying to protect the consumer here,” Mullis said. The product directory established by SB 572, Cunningham later added, would provide “a critical tool for state and local law enforcement to ensure a responsible marketplace.”

    “A directory provides the dual benefits of helping to protect against potential health and safety risks from unregulated products and cultivating a responsible marketplace that allows the category to exist and provide adult smokers with legal alternatives to cigarettes, which is the number one cause of preventable death in Georgia,” she continued.

    Paul Blair, the vice president of government affairs at Turning Point Brands (TPB), a mid-size vape company, said on Twitter that part of the problem is that businesses advocating for state synthetic nicotine bans—most of which are either tobacco producers or large vape manufacturers with considerable market share—“are arguing to lawmakers that here is an industry ‘consensus’” on the issue. That, he went on to say, is far from the case.

    “Considering the original bill would have decimated Georgia’s vape shops in just a few months, a two-year implementation delay is welcome.”

    Three people urged lawmakers to oppose the bill at the hearing: Greg Conley, the president of the American Vaping Association (AVA); Susan Stutzman, the president of the Georgia Vape Alliance; and Keith Gossett, vice president of the Georgia Vape Alliance and the owner of Bucky’s Vape Shop in Columbus, Georgia. A majority of the legislators, who remained understandably confused about the FDA’s PMTA pathway, agreed to push back some of the relevant dates in the bill.

    “Considering the original bill would have decimated Georgia’s vape shops in just a few months, a two-year implementation delay is welcome,” Conley told Filter. “Nonetheless, we remain hopeful that this bill will not become law, as Georgia’s vape shops and adult vapers should not have a countdown clock to extinction hanging above their heads.”

    By the time the bill actually goes into effect, if it ever does, the FDA should have authorized more than one vaping product—and might, too, have regulatory authority over synthetic nicotine, providing a legal if onerous pathway for such products.

    “Victory won’t be declared until this bill is dead and buried,” Conley said. “But for today, Georgia small business owners and vapers can at least take solace in the fact that Juul failed miserably in convincing the committee that their preferred solution should be implemented immediately.” 

     


     

    Photograph of Georgia State Capitol by DXR via Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons 4.0

    The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants and donations from both the American Vaping Association and Juul Labs. Filters Editorial Independence Policy applies.

    • Alex is Filter’s news editor. He previously worked as a reporter and copy editor at VICE, and has been published in The New York Times MagazineThe Columbia Journalism Review, The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic, among other outlets. He was also previously a freelance editorial consultant for the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World; The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, has received grants from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World. He is currently based in Los Angeles.

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