Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Altria Group Inc. has asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to seek an extension from a federal judge in Maryland on the regulatory deadline for some tobacco products to coincide with the eight-week social-distancing period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Currently, companies must apply to the FDA by May 12 for authorization to keep selling certain tobacco products such as e-cigarettes and nicotine pouches.
Altria’s employees, contractors and partners, such as analytical labs, have been working for months to prepare the applications, the company said in its letter to the FDA. Altria said it is on track to meet the filing deadline, but that it and many of its partners have asked employees to work from home. If an extension isn’t possible, Altria proposed the FDA allow companies to submit data and product samples after the deadline.
“Although we make this request and raise these issues given these unprecedented times, we remain committed to working with the agency on these important product submissions,” Altria Senior Vice President Paige Magness said in the letter.
Michael Felberbaum, a spokesman for the FDA, said in a statement that the agency had received numerous inquiries from the industry expressing concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the May 12 deadline.
“The FDA is currently engaged in internal discussions to determine how to best address this issue,” Felberbaum said. “We encourage manufacturers who have concerns about meeting the May 12 deadline for any reason to contact the FDA directly.”
Meanwhile, Altria has committed $1 million to support immediate local coronavirus relief efforts in its headquarters community of Richmond, Va., and its other manufacturing and grower communities.
“This is an unprecedented time, and it’s critical that businesses step up to meet the challenges in the communities where we live and work,” said Billy Gifford, Vice Chairman and CFO, Altria.
As part of this initial investment, Altria provided $500,000 to the Community Foundation of Greater Richmond’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which will support organizations addressing the physical and emotional needs of the Central Virginia community’s most vulnerable residents. The company will work with leaders in its manufacturing communities, including Nashville and others, to respond to priority community needs and investments as they emerge. The response will also include a distribution to the American Red Cross.
“Caring for each other and doing what’s right is core to our company,” said Jennifer Hunter, Senior Vice President, Corporate Citizenship, Altria Client Services. “Circumstances are changing quickly, and we will respond to our communities’ needs accordingly.”
Altria is following updates from public health authorities and implementing CDC-recommended precautions including travel restrictions, social distancing and remote working, and has implemented plans to minimize business disruptions and their potential impact to employees, consumers and customers.
Part of this response includes a commitment to pay manufacturing employees their regular base wages during a temporary two-week suspension of certain plant operations, and evaluating additional pay continuation beyond that timeframe as needed.