Gottlieb Faces Congress During his Confirmation Hearing

Scott Gottlieb

Dr. Scott Gottlieb made an appearance before Congress on Wednesday, April 4, testifying on his own behalf during his confirmation hearing. President Donald J. Trump nominated the 44-year-old doctor to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

As reported by Tobacco Business previously [read here], many in the tobacco industry feel Gottlieb is a good choice to lead the FDA and potential ally in the onslaught of regulations introduced by the FDA in recent years. With President Trump’s initiatives to roll back regulations in order to make the U.S. more business-friendly and Gottlieb’s conservative take on regulations, especially as they impact premium cigars and e-cigarettes, questions during his confirmation naturally touched on the subjects of regulations, tobacco products and how the FDA would handle these items under his watch.

When it came to regulations, Gottlieb responded that, “We need to make sure we’re getting the most bang for our regulatory buck. That means being cognizant of risks and being sure that we’re not adding to consumer costs without improving consumer safety.”

As with many of President Trump’s nominees, Gottlieb faced questions of conflicts of interests in terms of his financial investments and business ties. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids on Wednesday requested Gottlieb recuse himself on any decisions involving e-cigarettes due to his financial ties to Kure, a vape store franchiser. To quell critics’ concerns, Gottlieb said he would recuse himself from issues related to drug companies and would divest his financial interest in Kure as well.

Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) also voiced her concerns about the pace of the vetting process for Gottlieb, stressing the need to give a thorough review of Gottlieb’s “unprecedented financial entanglements in the industries he would regulate as commissioner.” She also questioned how the FDA, under President Trump and Gottlieb, would make science-based decisions.

Gottlieb, however, assured Murray and others that if he were to be confirmed as the head of the FDA, science-based and independent decisions would be what he’d strive for. “I know what’s at stake here. People’s lives are literally on the line when it comes to the decisions [the] FDA makes, its oversight, and its enforcement of Congress’ laws.”

Gottlieb and Tobacco
Many are watching the confirmation hearing of Gottlieb for a hint of what may be to come in terms of tobacco regulation. When asked about flavored e-cigarette and cigar products, Gottlieb refused to commit to banning or prohibiting these products. He acknowledged that a line needed to be drawn, especially when it comes to the names of certain tobacco products that may make them more appealing to consumers, but countered that the line needed to be drawn by experts with a scientific background.

During the hearing, Gottlieb indicated that his priority as the leader of the FDA would be to take on the opioid epidemic which he said was “having staggering human consequences” and would “require dramatic action.” He challenged the FDA to develop alternatives to opioid drugs and to evaluate medical devices and therapy to help those who were struggling with addiction.

Gottlieb re-affirmed his commitment to preventing kids from starting to smoke, saying, “I’m not going to countenance a rise in adolescence smoking rates in this country under my watch.”

Gottlieb did say there could be a role for vaping in getting smokers away from combustable tobacco cigarette products. Also, while many questioned his ties to big drug companies, Gottlieb also said he’d be able to use his insider knowledge of how drug companies operate and work to prevent them from taking advantage of the FDA for their own commercial advantage.

“I want to earn and keep the public’s trust,” Gottlieb said during his hearing. “I recognize the importance of bringing impartiality to this role.”

According to a spokeswoman, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee will vote on Gottlieb after the upcoming Congressional recess.