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August 15, 2023
4 min to read

FDA Tobacco Official Will Be New Truth Initiative CEO

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Jim McDonald

In a move that will surprise no one, a high-ranking official from the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) will replace Robin Koval as president and CEO of the anti-nicotine organization Truth Initiative. Truth, a private non-profit company, already works closely with CTP and other government agencies.

Kathleen Crosby, the current director of the CTP Office of Health Communication and Education, will take over at Truth in October. Like outgoing CEO Koval, Crosby worked for years in the advertising industry before her stint at the FDA.

She spent nine years at the Ad Council, and before that was a vice president at Boston-based ad agency Arnold Worldwide, where she oversaw the American Legacy Foundation’s “Truth” campaign. Following that anti-smoking campaign, Legacy changed its name to Truth Initiative.

"Leading Truth Initiative feels like I’m coming home, and I can’t think of a better time or place to continue advocating for positive change,” Crosby said in a press release. “The opportunity has never been greater to help people leave tobacco behind, and I eagerly look forward to the work ahead.”

Crosby led FDA messaging on vaping and nicotine

As CTP communications boss since 2011, Crosby has overseen the FDA’s public messages about vaping, smoking and nicotine—none of which could properly be called educational.

FDA’s youth-focused anti-vaping advertising efforts began with the 2018 Real Cost campaign called “Epidemic,” in which hapless teen vapers were infected with worm-like parasites that crawled under their skin.

“There’s an epidemic spreading,” said the ad’s narrator. “Scientists say it can change your brain. It can release dangerous chemicals like formaldehyde into your bloodstream. It can expose your lungs to acrolein, which can cause irreversible damage. It’s not a parasite, not a virus, not an infection. It’s vaping.”

Other anti-vaping campaigns followed, including a magician who turned vapes into cigarettes, Drug War-style shame and stigma, and a collaboration with Marvel Comics in which an entire school falls prey to vaping-induced “mind control.”

We only listed the teen-targeted messaging because that’s all there is. Crosby and the CTP under former director Mitch Zeller and current director Brian King have never seen fit to engage with adults who smoke, despite occasionally noting that vaping is less harmful than smoking. (Recently, CTP announced a grant to fund research on “the impact that messaging about the continuum of risk for tobacco products may have on various segments of the population.” And today, Brian King co-authored a commentary in the journal Addiction, musing about the possibility of messaging geared toward adults.)

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Truth’s future: advocating for the nicotine “endgame”

Truth Initiative (then called the American Legacy Foundation) was created as part of the 1999 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between 46 U.S. states and the tobacco industry. Although Truth didn’t receive MSA funds after the initial $1.5 billion in funding, the organization maintained its wealth through canny investments and fundraising. Truth had about $900 million in assets in 2021.

Truth built a first-class research operation—the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies—and staffed it with some of the best tobacco scientists in the country, including David Abrams, Ray Niaura, Allison Glasser, Andrea Villanti and Jennifer Pearson. Most of the research group was sympathetic to vaping and tobacco harm reduction.

Because they contain heavy metals and residual nicotine, e-cigarettes/pods can qualify as both e-waste and biohazard waste. Definitely not something to toss on the ground, but people do and it’s “sending Earth to hell in a pod-shaped coffin." https://t.co/mMyvBrPv6Q #EarthDay pic.twitter.com/BT4O7e6yAL

— Truth Initiative (@truthinitiative) April 22, 2019

Robin Koval, like Crosby, comes from the advertising world. Before joining Truth in 2013, she co-founded and led New York ad agency the Kaplan Thaler Group. When Koval took over as CEO following the 2012 departure of Cheryl Healton, Legacy was renamed Truth, and Koval decided to join the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids—the other major private U.S. tobacco control organization—in taking a hard line against vaping and nicotine. Many of the Schroeder scientists left, and Truth’s once-impressive research group shriveled into a rubber-stamp providing “scientific” cover for Truth’s political positions.

Now Truth has decided to go further than other tobacco control organizations have dared, calling for a tobacco and nicotine “endgame”—the elimination of all consumer nicotine products. The organization issued a report in July called “Gamechanger,” in which it advocates for adopting a "set of policies and strategies to move to a time when commercial tobacco and nicotine, with the exception of FDA-approved medications, are no longer used.”

It will be Kathleen Crosby who, as Truth’s new CEO, oversees the shift from tobacco control to “the end of tobacco.”

Image courtesy YouTube.

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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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