Goodbye Gottlieb

Posted 7th March 2019 by Dave Cross
Scott Gottlieb was welcomed with caution by harm reduction advocates when he took on the role of Commissioner for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He had a history of supporting harm reduction strategies and was seen as a hands-off pragmatist, but his actions on vaping proved him to be anything but. The vaping community will now wonder if his resignation is a sign that the US Administration is looking for someone with a more relaxed approach to business regulation.

Vapers cheered when Scott Gottlieb replaced Robert Califf at the FDA. Califf previously worked at the University of California, San Francisco and had strong pharmaceutical industry ties, and this fed into his opposition to vaping and tobacco harm reduction.

A successful venture capitalist, Gottlieb appreciated the need for a soft regulatory framework and his career in clinical medicine lent him an appreciation of tobacco harm reduction. On top of this, vapers believed he would approach the role with common sense and favour given that he had sat on the board of e-cigarette retailer Kure.

Unfortunately, Gottlieb proved himself to be unable to stand up to the pressure mounted by pharmaceutical companies and their sponsored interest groups, and championed a succession of idiotic moves - not least of which was the ridiculous whipping up of hysteria over teen vaping and the war on Juul Labs in particular.

Scott Gottlieb resigns from the FDA after just two years in the job, giving the reason that he wants to ‘spend more time with the family’ – traditionally a euphemism used by politicians after they’ve been sacked or been revealed to be indulging in extra-marital affairs.

He finishes his post at the end of March. The suddenness of the move is surprising as he had presented his plans to restrict the sale of flavoured eliquids to the White House just four days previously.

Writer Jacob Grier wrote: “Yikes. I've been critical of Gottlieb's recent actions on tobacco and nicotine, but have to worry that any likely successor will be worse.”

Gottlieb had been facing stiff opposition recently; a coalition of influential groups recently demanded the White House block key parts of Gottlieb’s anti-vape proposals. Also, he was strongly rebuked from the Senate floor by Republican Richard Burr over the proposal to ban menthol-flavoured products.

Michelle Minton, Competitive Enterprise Institute, commented: “I can only hope the next FDA Commissioner is less concerned with appeasing activists than s/he is in making science-based policies that benefit the public as a whole.”

The New York Times responded to events by saying: “His announcement caught many in Washington and the industries he regulates by surprise and raised questions about whether his push to reduce teenage vaping and lower nicotine levels and ban menthol in cigarettes will continue in an administration that generally has a hands-off approach to business.”

Charles Gardner said: “The FDA needs to recalculate the balance of public health good. They clearly got it wrong over the past year, and appeared to be driven more by screaming headlines (pushed by well-funded anti-vaping advocates) than by evidence.”

Greg Conley, The American Vaping Association, greeted Gottlieb’s announcement by stating: “The next FDA Commissioner will have an opportunity to truly enact real regulatory reforms that will make a difference in the lives of adult smokers.”

“Commissioner Gottlieb started off his tenure with an aim towards smart approaches to regulating smoke-free alternatives like vaping products. However, under his watch, no significant efforts were made at reforming the FDA Centre for Tobacco Products or providing clear pathways for small and medium sized businesses looking to keep their businesses open. We are hopeful that the next FDA Commissioner will undertake real efforts to repair out country’s broken tobacco and nicotine regulatory system.”

Not only did Gottlieb do a massive U-turn on his previous beliefs and actions but, by attempting to drive through strict regulatory measures, he was operating in a manner directly opposite to Donald Trump’s other business-friendly appointees. It’s impossible to see past the link between his attendance at the White House and the timing of his resignation. Consequently, does this offer a crumb of hope to a vape industry that has seen nothing but smears and attacks for the last twenty-four months?

The move may not be enough reason for American vapers to cheer just yet, but no tears will be shed in the tobacco harm reduction community.

 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker