US Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb has resigned, according to The Washington Post. The move, which Gottlieb has said is because he wants to have more time with his family, supposedly came as a surprise to senior White House officials. Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary Alex Azar confirmed the news.
Gottlieb, who became FDA commissioner in May 2017, had been a top official at the agency during the George W. Bush administration. When his name was first floated to head the FDA, critics spotlighted his connections to the industry and his work for pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline — work that netted him over $400,000 in pay between 2013 and 2015. Still, he was confirmed with a 57-42 vote in the Senate after promising to divest from several health care companies.
As head of the FDA, Gottlieb made cracking down on e-cigarettes and vaping a key part of his tenure. Just yesterday, the FDA accused Walgreens of illegally selling tobacco products to kids. Gottlieb retweeted a television appearance where he discussed the Walgreens crackdown earlier today.
The action is part of the FDA’s changing relationship with the e-cigarette industry, which was very different earlier in Gottlieb’s tenure. In July 2017, Gottlieb and the FDA gave e-cigarette companies four extra years to apply for the FDA’s approval to keep their products on the market. That gave the industry more time to sell essentially unregulated e-cigarettes and e-liquids.
After e-cig company Juul’s growing popularity with underage vapers hit headlines, however, the FDA began pushing the industry to curb youth vaping. In April, the FDA asked Juul to turn over documents that might explain the explosive rise of the e-cigarette’s popularity with young people. FDA investigators also seized documents when they conducted a surprise inspection of Juul’s San Francisco headquarters in the fall. In November, the FDA announced it would limit the sale of sweet-flavored e-cigarette products in places without strict age-verification procedures. Tobacco stocks like Altria Group and British American Tobacco jumped by 2 percent at the news of Gottlieb’s resignation.
“I’m fortunate for the opportunity that the President of the United States afforded me to lead this outstanding team, at this time, in this period of wonderful scientific advances,” Gottlieb wrote in his resignation letter. Meanwhile, Azar said in a statement that “the public health of our country is better off” because of Gottlieb’s work. Gottlieb will remain in his position for another month.
The FDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Update March 5, 2019 5:30PM EST: This story was updated to include statements from Gottlieb and Azar.