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December 9, 2021
3 min to read

FDA Tobacco Chief Mitch Zeller Will Retire Next Year

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Jim McDonald

FDA Center for Tobacco Products Director Mitch Zeller has announced he will retire in April 2022. Zeller was appointed to the job in 2013, and was the second CTP director since the tobacco office’s launch in 2009.

Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said Zeller’s work has been “invaluable and instrumental” to advancing “numerous historic public health milestones in tobacco regulation,” according to the Washington Post, which first reported the story.

Zeller’s signature accomplishment has been presiding over the FDA’s chaotic regulation of the vaping market through the Premarket Tobacco Application (PMTA) pathway. More than five years after the agency gave itself authority over vaping products with the Deeming Rule, only one vaping product has been given the green light to be legally sold to millions of vapers in the U.S.

CTP is not an independent agency, so whoever gets picked will not have to be confirmed by the Senate.

There is a certain horror to imagining some of the names that could apply for the job, which theoretically requires a blend of knowledge on policy, law, and science.

— Gregory Conley (@GregTHR) December 9, 2021

Meanwhile, the FDA is embroiled in legal challenges from independent vaping companies, after issuing Marketing Denial Orders to hundreds of manufacturers for millions of flavored vaping products.

Zeller has often referred to a nicotine product “continuum of risk” that should guide regulation, but during his reign at CTP the agency’s public messaging has not acknowledged the vast differences in risk between combustible tobacco and non-combustible nicotine products like e-cigarettes.

CTP director is not a job that requires Senate confirmation. With a new FDA commissioner (probably anti-vaping nominee Robert Califf) arriving in the next few months, the CTP position could be filled by one of many tobacco control hardliners who oppose vaping as harm reduction for people who smoke. With input from Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who is antagonistic to vaping, the choice is probably likely to veer in that direction.

Zeller’s first stint with the FDA began in 1993, working for then-commissioner David Kessler, who first proposed (unsuccessfully) regulating smoking and nicotine under the agency’s drug authority. Zeller eventually became an associate commissioner of the agency and director of FDA's first Office of Tobacco Programs. He later worked at the American Legacy Foundation (now named Truth Initiative) for two years, and for more than 10 at private consulting firm Pinney Associates.

Image courtesy C-SPAN

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Jim McDonald

Vaping since: 12 years

Favorite products:

Favorite flavors: RY4-style tobaccos, fruits

Expertise in: Political and legal challenges, tobacco control haters, moral panics

Jim McDonald

Smokers created vaping without help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and I believe vapers have the right to continue innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I’m a member of the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy

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