A February 23 Winston-Salem Journal article about Mitch Zeller, the new director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products (here), reported that “Brad Rodu, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and a smokeless-tobacco advocate, said he is concerned that Zeller’s work with GlaxoSmithKline could create a regulatory bias against manufacturers’ smokeless products. He urged the FDA to take an open-minded approach to smokeless innovations, ‘especially when smokers have increasing access to vastly safer alternatives.’”
That’s only part of the story.
Over two years ago, I critiqued an article in Tobacco Control that I labeled “another thinly veiled call for reducing nicotine to ‘non-addictive levels’ in cigarettes” (my blog post is here).
Zeller was one of the authors of that article. In the press release from the University of Minnesota (still available here), Zeller commented: “Imagine a world where the only cigarettes that kids could experiment with would neither create nor sustain addiction.”
I said then that … “it doesn’t take an active imagination to appreciate the disaster that would result from radical reduction (prohibition) of nicotine in cigarettes.” Zeller and his coauthors did not understand the effects of radically reducing nicotine in cigarettes. Yet, they make nicotine prohibition sound like the perfect solution for the nation’s 45 million smokers.
I am less concerned that Zeller used to work with GlaxoSmithKline than I am with the possibility that he might steer the FDA to reduce nicotine levels in tobacco products to the nonaddictive level in GSK’s nicotine medicines. Those levels, the data show, don’t satisfy smokers and result in a 93% failure rate for smoking cessation (discussed here).