Under the budget proposal, a new agency would be created within the Department of Health and Human Services dedicated solely to regulating tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
It’s a striking proposal that directly bucks the will of both Congress and the FDA.
The FDA first tried to regulate tobacco products in the 1990s, but that effort was blocked by the Supreme Court. In response, Congress formally gave the FDA power to regulate tobacco in 2009. The agency, however, has faced bipartisan criticism in recent years for its inability to stem the tide of rising youth vaping rates and its related struggle to contain a mysterious vaping-related illness that has killed at least 60.
In the budget proposal released Monday, the Trump administration appears to directly criticize the FDA’s progress regulating tobacco. The new tobacco agency would be created “in order to increase direct accountability and more effectively respond to this critical area of public health concern,” the administration writes.
The proposal also follows striking comments from the White House’s top domestic policy adviser Joe Grogan, who told reporters in November that it was a “moronic idea” for the FDA to regulate tobacco. He suggested the FDA’s tobacco work was distracting the agency from its more traditional roles, like regulating drugs.
Trump’s budget toes a similar line.
“A new agency with the singular mission on tobacco and its impact on public health would have greater capacity to respond strategically to the growing complexity of new tobacco products,” the budget states. “This reorganization would allow the FDA Commissioner to focus on its traditional mission of ensuring the safety of the Nation’s food and medical products supply.”
Grogan’s comments were widely panned by FDA allies, including former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who said at the time that regulating tobacco was “one of the most productive uses of my time as FDA Commissioner.”
The proposal is a break from previous Trump budgets, which have called for greater funding of the FDA to tackle the youth vaping epidemic. Last year’s budget called for the FDA to collect $100 million in so-called user fee funds from e-cigarette manufacturers to pay for the FDA’s tobacco work.
The Trump administration would likely need congressional authorization to enact such a sweeping proposal. It’s unclear how Congress will respond to this request, but the president’s budgets are rarely enacted by Congress. Instead, they serve as a blueprint for the president’s policy priorities.
Trump’s budget also proposes cutting 10% from the overall HHS budget and roughly $3 billion from the NIH’s current budget, which was enacted by Congress in December.
However, the administration was quick to note it did boost its NIH budget request by $4 billion compared to the amount it requested last year.
Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify the administration’s budget request for the NIH.