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Stogie News: FDA Tobacco Committee Faces Ethics Questions

10 Jun 2010

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Advisory Committee created to give recommendations about FDA regulation of tobacco, including cigars, is under fire for multiple conflicts of interest among some of its members.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, sent a letter earlier this week to the inspector general of the Dept. of Health and Human Services asking for an investigation into appointments made by the FDA to the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC).

TPSAC was created under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act which puts tobacco products under FDA oversight. Last Fall the FDA sought comments on expanding its authority to include cigars. A recommendation by the TPSAC would be the likely first step towards regulation of cigars, which would be extremely damaging for the cigar industry and the choices of cigar smokers.

In its letter to the inspector general, CREW raised issues about Drs. Neal Benowitz and Jack Henningfield, two members of the committee who have financial conflicts of interest based on their ties to pharmaceutical companies that make smoking cessation products. Both have also made substantial money as expert witnesses in cases against the tobacco companies who they are now charged with regulating.

CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan noted, “TPSAC panel members are barred from having financial ties to cigarette companies. Common sense dictates they shouldn’t have ties to pharmaceutical companies that make smoking cessation products either.”

In a statement to the New York Times, an FDA spokesman responded to the charges by noting “tobacco cessation drugs are not regulated by the Center for Tobacco Products.” But that doesn’t address the conflict raised due to Benowitz and Henningfield’s financial interest in getting smokers to quit smoking and use the products they stand to profit from.

In addition, the doctors conflict of interest suggests that both are in violation of President Obama’s highly-touted ethics policy, signed immediately after he took office. That policy bars “every appointee in every executive agency” from participating in “any particular matter involving specific parties that is directly and substantially related to [the appointees’] former employer or former clients, including regulations and contracts.”

The FDA ethics office did not respond to multiple questions from about whether the apparent conflicts of interest constitute a violation of the Obama executive order on appointees’ ethics commitments.

Patrick S

photo credit: FDA

4 Responses to “Stogie News: FDA Tobacco Committee Faces Ethics Questions”

  1. Tobacco news Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 2:14 am #

    Good article! Thanks for this. IN bookmark this site

  2. Clay Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 3:42 am #

    National Review has a column today by Deroy Murdock: Tobacco Taxes Finance Terrorism

    Not directly connectted to this subject but it shows the unintended consequences of government regulation.

  3. Padronnie Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    Nice article. Here's a thought:

    Imagine the outrage if tobacco company scientists were put on a committee to regulate the products that help people quit smoking?

  4. dmjones Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 9:20 am #

    Why should anyone be surprised when someone or some agency in the Obama administration violates his "ethics pledge." In a year and a half it's become almost a weekly event that we see some ethical scandal related to him or his minions. Hell, one only needs to look closely at how a political neophyte went from a no-status professor to State Senator to Senator to President all in less than 20 years to see that he and the people surrounding him make the Gulf of Mexico look pristine.