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Azim Chowdhury Interviewed in VB2B Winter Edition

Date: Nov 01, 2016


Azim Chowdhury was interviewed in VB2B's Winter Edition. Azim discussed current events in the e-vapor industry and what companies need to do in the face of rapid regulatory change.


  1. What are the different services Keller Heckman offers the business owners?

We are a regulatory law firm specializing in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Union (EU), and global requirements for e-vapor products. Our expertise is in promoting, protecting, and defending products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by government agencies which, in the United States, now includes e-vapor products since FDA’s Deeming Regulation became effective on August 8, 2016. For over 50 years, Keller and Heckman has provided global legal counseling in the areas of regulatory law, litigation, and business transactions. With offices in Washington, D.C., Brussels, Paris, San Francisco, and Shanghai, the firm is a pioneer in the use of interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving. Further details regarding our services and personnel can be found at www.khlaw.com. With respect to e-vapor products specifically, our comprehensive and extensive experience dealing with the regulation of food, drugs, medical devices, dietary supplements, and packaging before FDA and regulatory agencies around the world uniquely positions us to guide e-vapor companies through the Deeming Regulation and other requirements for various products. We currently represent e-liquid and device manufacturers and trade associations in matters of federal, state, and global regulatory compliance. We defend lawsuits, including class actions, against e-liquid companies. We are also currently representing the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition and a number of industry trade associations in Federal district court in Washington, D.C., challenging aspects of the Deeming Regulation and the Tobacco Control Act. You can learn more about our e-vapor specific practice on our website at www.khlaw.com/evapor.      

  1. Without exposing any confidential information or creating a conflict of interest, what types of companies in this industry do you represent? 

We represent a broad spectrum of e-vapor industry stakeholders, including ingredient suppliers, manufacturers (both e-liquid and devices), distributors and retailers, and trade associations of such companies located in the United States and around the world. 

  1. What is the R2B foundation? How can businesses help support its cause?

In July 2015, a group of e-liquid companies came together to form the Right to be Smoke-Free Coalition—a non-profit, industry-led trade association of e-vapor businesses dedicated to promoting the interests of the industry, as well as for the right of vapers to be smoke-free. The specific goal of the Coalition is to legally challenge in court unconstitutional state and federal laws related to the vape industry. The first case that we took on for the Coalition was the unconstitutional e-liquid ban in Indiana. We are still fighting that battle in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. We are also challenging the approach FDA took in the Deeming Regulation in regulating vapor products.

Specifically, our position is that FDA’s treatment of vapor products, which is more onerous than cigarette products, violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), among other laws. Our main concern is that forcing all vapor products on the market today to go through the Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) process within 2 years (where each application is expected to cost hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars), will result in a virtual ban of all products within 3 years. In short, this regulation will kill the industry. That is why we must come together now to fight this regulation and force FDA to take a more reasonable approach. 

The FDA litigation is expected to cost between $1-2 million over the next couple of years (including appeals).  The Coalition is actively recruiting responsible vapor companies to join and contribute to the cause. The more reputable companies that join the Coalition, the less the financial burden will be for all members to fight these laws in court. In terms of contribution amounts, companies have donated between $5,000 and $50,000. But, any amount will help! You can join and contribute here: www.r2bsmokefree.org.  

  1. What was going through your mind when you started R2B?

The original e-liquid companies that came together—Vapor Shark, Cosmic Fog Vapors, Mt Baker Vapor and NicQuid—recognized that there was a huge need for an industry-led coalition to challenge laws in court, particularly when the lobbying efforts to prevent such laws were unsuccessful. Indiana was the first example of this, but there are many other states with laws that may challenge, including California and Pennsylvania. 

  1. What is your background of expertise? How many years have you been experienced in the field?

I have been practicing law for 10 years and am a Partner in Keller and Heckman’s food and drug law group, where I have been focusing on the e-vapor industry since 2009. Beyond my tobacco and e-vapor work, I advise domestic and foreign corporations in matters of FDA and international regulatory compliance. In particular, I assist companies in establishing clearances for food and drug additives and food-contact substances. I am also a frequent contributor to the Tobacco Reporter and the Food and Drug Law Institute’s (FDLI’s) Update magazine. I have edited and co-authored FDLI’s upcoming manual: Tobacco and Nicotine Delivery: Regulation and Compliance, 2nd Edition. I have also previously served on the Editorial Advisory Board of the Food and Drug Law Journal.

  1. What types of law can your firm practice for potentially interested readers?

We practice in a wide variety of areas of potential interest to your readers including: Advertising & Promotion, Business Counseling and Transactional, Chemical Control (REACH, TSCA), Environmental, Litigation, Product Safety, Telecommunications, Workplace Safety and Health, among other areas. Our full practice list can be found here: http://www.khlaw.com/areas.aspx

  1. How many partners does Keller Heckman currently have, how many on staff? 

We currently have 41 Partners, 24 of which practice in our food and drug law group. In addition to our legal staff, we have about 20 in-house scientists who work closely with the firm’s attorneys on matters of technical complexity (including e-liquid toxicity assessments, for example). 

  1. What are some of the obstacles manufacturers and retailers have to overcome to manufacture finished American vapor products for retail sale in the USA, while now under federal regulation?

Since the Deeming Regulation became effective on August 8, 2016, e-liquid and e-vapor products are now regulated by FDA as tobacco products. That means they are subject to a host of regulatory requirements including establishment registration, product listing, ingredient reporting, health document submissions, warning requirements and, most critically, premarket review via the Premarket Tobacco Product Application (PMTA).  Products on the market on the August 8 effective date can take advantage of a two-year grace period before the PMTA deadline on August 8, 2018. But, new products cannot enter the market today (post-8/8/16) without first getting PMTA authorization.   

  1. What are some of the requirements, and the timelines, for manufacturers who had their products on the market before August 8, 2016?

FDA’s full Deeming compliance calendar is available here: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/TobaccoProducts/GuidanceComplianceRegulatoryInformation/UCM501016.pdf. For products that were on the market on August 8, 2016, here are the important deadlines:

  • Register facilities and submit product listings by December 31, 2016 for all U.S. establishments (this does not yet apply to foreign establishments, including Chinese manufacturers, but FDA has indicated it will propose a new rule to extend this requirement to foreign establishments).
  • Submit ingredient lists (i.e., product formulations) by February 8, 2017 (or by August 8, 2017) for small-scale manufacturers.
  • Submit health and safety studies (developed between June and December 2009) by February 8, 2017 (or by August 8, 2017 for small-scale manufacturers).
  • Submit PMTAs by August 8, 2018.
  • Have compliant labeling by May 10, 2018 (e.g., name and place of business, quantity of the contents, and “Sale only allowed in the United States” disclaimer), and the nicotine addiction warning by August 8, 2018.
  1. What are some of the scientific requirements of PMTA applications and how would you recommend manufacturers to go about obtaining such information about their products?

The Tobacco Control Act requires a PMTA to include the following:

  • full reports of all investigations of health risks;
  • a full statement of the components, ingredients, additives and properties, and principles of operation of the tobacco product;
  • a full description of methods of manufacturing and processing;
  • an explanation of how the product complies with any applicable tobacco product standards;
  • samples of the product and its components; and
  • specimens of proposed labeling.

FDA has issued a guidance document to assist manufacturers with preparing and submitting a PMTA, which is available here: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/RulesRegulationsGuidance/UCM499352.pdf. The guidance details the information that should be submitted in order to meet the statutory criteria set forth above, and it further recommends the submission of particular additional materials (such as a cover letter and executive summary) that will assist FDA in the review of the submission. Of particular note, FDA has interpreted the provision regarding the “full reports of investigations of health risks” required under the Act to require submission of not only investigations that support the PMTA, but also any investigations that do not support, or are adverse to, the application. FDA further recommends that a PMTA provides information on both nonclinical and clinical investigations, including, but not limited to, any studies assessing constituents of tobacco or tobacco smoke, toxicology, consumer exposure, and consumer use profiles. In addition, FDA recommends that manufacturers provide information on (i) investigations concerning products with novel components, ingredients, additives or design features that are similar or related to those of the new tobacco product, and (ii) investigations concerning products that share novel components, ingredients, additives, or design features with the new tobacco product so that FDA may adequately assess the health risks of the product. The PMTA Guidance contains other detailed recommendations to assist manufacturers in making the required statutory showings, including general principles for scientific studies, product chemistry, nonclinical studies, and studies in adult human subjects. 

  1. What would you say was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome throughout your venture as one of the partners of Keller Heckman?

The highlight of my career is actually not related to my food and drug or e-vapor practice, but to my pro bono work. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to assist a young boy and his family obtain asylum in the United States. It was a heartbreaking story—my clients had fled their home country of El Salvador because of the physical violence and threats of death they faced at the hands of the notorious, internationally-known criminal enterprise, the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). The gang had singled out my clients and an additional family member for refusing to join them, and actually murdered one of the brothers. Although asylum is rarely granted to the victims of gang-based violence abroad, the Executive Office of Immigration Review agreed that my clients’ case was distinguishable from other cases involving victims of gang violence. They are now productive U.S. residents and hope to become citizens.

  1. What's the firm’s number one goal for the future?

Our goal is to continue to provide creative legal, scientific, and business solutions for our clients. We are here to help you grow your business, using both law and science.

  1. If you yourself could share one piece of advice with retailers what would it be?

Work with reputable suppliers who plan on doing their best to comply with the law itself (check IDs, no free samples, etc.) and help fund the litigation and lobbying efforts to change the law.

  1. If you had all of the vapor product manufacturers in America in one room, what would you say to them?

The industry must come together with one voice if it is going to survive. We are all on the same team.

     15. What are some new regulations or upcoming changes we can expect to see on the market in the near future?

The Deeming Regulation is a “foundational” rule that gives FDA authority over deemed products, including e-vapor. There will be more regulations in the future covering, for example, advertising restrictions, Good Manufacturing Practices, online sales, and possible restrictions or prohibitions on the use of flavors. Those regulations would have to go through separate Notice and Comment Rulemaking processes and so are likely years away.