FDA chief questions e-cigarettes’ public health value; TPB shares fall 5%

Turning Point Brands’ five-day stock chart | Courtesy of Nasdaq

Shares of the Louisville-based tobacco products company Turning Point Brands fell 5 percent Wednesday morning after the FDA chief questioned whether e-cigarettes had any redeeming public health value.

TPB shares traded at $43.06 shortly before 1 p.m., down 5 percent from Tuesday’s close. Shares have declined nearly 16 percent since March 18 — though they’re still up about 5 percent this month.

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said on NPR’s “Morning Edition” Wednesday that he wondered whether e-cigarettes’ benefit in helping adults quit smoking was negated by the products’ inflaming the teenage e-cigarette epidemic.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

“Even if you’re able to help a portion of currently addicted adult smokers migrate off of combustible tobacco,” Gottlieb said, “when you look at that against all the youth use that’s being created by these e-cigarettes, I think you’re getting to a point where you have to ask yourself whether or not the availability of e-cigarettes has redeeming public health value.”

Those comments followed sharp criticism of e-cigarettes from Gottlieb and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar in a Washington Post column on March 20.

Youth e-cigarette use surged 78 percent from 2017 to 2018, according to the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey, and Azar and Gottlieb wrote that “… regulators and public health officials have no choice but to combat the youth trends forcefully and follow available science to guide policy.

“Absent a reversal in the trends of youth e-cigarette use, we envision a world where the FDA will continue to narrow the off-ramp for adults seeking a less harmful alternative to combustible cigarettes, in order to close the on-ramp that has resulted in the widespread and increasingly frequent use of e-cigarettes by teens. What happens in 2019 will go a long way to determine the future availability of these products.”

TPB could not be immediately reached for comment, but has told Insider previously that it “shares the FDA’s commitment to keep e-cigarettes out of the hands of minors.”

TPB’s shares had spiked nearly 13 percent on March 5 after the company announced record fourth-quarter net sales and gross profit — and after Gottlieb announced that he would be leaving the FDA next month.

In the last year, TPB’s stock price has more than doubled despite warnings from federal officials, public discussion and possible laws regarding who can vape when and where.