Market Commentary

FDA Approves Altria's Flavored Vapes Amid Congressional Trading

Turra Rasheed
24 Jun 2024 · 2 minutes read

In a groundbreaking decision, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized four menthol-flavored e-cigarette products from NJOY, a subsidiary of Altria Group Inc. (MO:US), marking the first time flavored vape products have been permitted for sale in the United States. This decision, announced on June 21, 2024, represents a significant milestone for the vaping industry and reflects the FDA's evolving stance on e-cigarettes as potential tools for smoking cessation.

The FDA's authorization underscores the agency's confidence in the evidence provided by NJOY, which demonstrated that the benefits of helping adult smokers transition to less harmful products outweigh the risks posed to youth. Since the FDA began regulating e-cigarettes in August 2016, it has reviewed millions of applications and rejected the majority, particularly those involving flavored products. The approval of NJOY's menthol vapes is a positive signal for the industry, suggesting that more flavored products could gain approval, provided they incorporate robust measures like Bluetooth age-verification technology to prevent youth access.

Despite the FDA's rigorous review process, the decision has sparked criticism from public health advocates. Yolonda Richardson, CEO of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, expressed her dismay, saying, "This decision is especially troubling given the FDA's failure to do its job and clear the market of unauthorized, illegal e-cigarette products." The controversy highlights the ongoing tension between regulatory actions aimed at harm reduction for adult smokers and the imperative to protect youth from nicotine addiction.

The FDA's move comes at a critical juncture as the U.S. government considers a potential ban on menthol cigarettes, adding another layer of complexity to the regulatory landscape. Additionally, the recent rescission of market denial orders for Juul Labs' tobacco and menthol-flavored pods indicates a dynamic and contentious regulatory environment.

Against this backdrop of regulatory shifts and industry developments, recent trades by U.S. politicians in Altria Group Inc. have raised eyebrows. Notably, Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, and Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, have engaged in multiple transactions involving Altria's stock this year. (Ro Khanna reported these trades to have been carried through a diversified trust managed by an independent third party)

These trades, occurring close to the period when the FDA was likely deliberating on the NJOY products, suggest a potential correlation between political investments and regulatory outcomes. The fact that politicians or their close family members have stakes in the Altria stock, a company directly impacted by FDA decisions, may raise questions about possible conflicts of interest.