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Trump passes over FDA’s Gottlieb; picks Big Pharma’s Alex Azar for HHS post

Just hours ago, President Donald Trump tweeted his nomination of former Big Pharma executive Alex Azar to become the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  When former secretary Tom Price resigned his post last month amid controversies surrounding travel expenses, FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb was considered a front runner for his replacement.  Since Gottlieb is also a former board member of vaping retailer Kure, many in the U.S. vaping community were hopefully optimistic that he would get the promotion.

But Trump decided to go with Azar, a former executive of the pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and well-known in political circles for his previous roles as general counsel and deputy secretary under President George W. Bush.  According to a senior Trump staffer on Fox News, Yale Alum Azar can “hit the ground running.” 

But what does this mean for vaping?  At the moment, Azar’s positions on electronic cigarettes and the controversial FDA deeming regulations are rather unclear.  

Alex Azar: Elimination of Obamacare top priority (not vaping)

At first glance, many vaping advocates may look at the Azar nomination with a bit of skepticism.  After all, Big Pharma is often viewed as one of the vaping industry’s most diabolical enemies.  Pharmaceutical companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson are the manufacturers of more mainstream nicotine replacement therapies like “the patch” and nicotine gums.  And vaping has taken a huge chuck of company profits over the past decade.  Repealing the FDA deeming regulations may not be in Big Pharma’s best financial interests.

That is, unless Big Pharma gets something else in return.  And a quid-pro-quo of a possible Obamacare Repeal in exchange for a repeal of the FDA deeming regulations might be a viable option.

And Azar is a vocal opponent of the Affordable Healthcare Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.  And Trump wants to kill it.


In fact, Trump seems to want to kill almost everything that has the Obama moniker attached to it, and the FDA deeming regulations are the offspring of the Obama Administration.  Doing the math, repealing them seems like something that Trump would love to do, if ever given the chance.

Meanwhile, Trump also seems to want to eliminate as many government regulations as possible, starting with those of  the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tillerson’s State Department.  In the case of the EPA, Trump has appointed a famous EPA-hater Scott Pruitt to the job, a man who has sued the agency multiple times in the past and seemingly wants to destroy it from the inside-out.

Will Azar be the same kind of politician?  Will Azar begin using his power to solely benefit Big Pharma, gut the power of the HHS, and by extension, eliminate vaping?  Only time will tell, but for now, the repeal of Obamacare seems to be his (and Trump’s) top priority, if recent comments to the press are to be believed.

"There will be a piece of legislation passes this year that is called 'the repeal of Obamacare,' " Azar has stated to CNBC News. "I don't know what's going to be in the substance of it, but there will be a piece of legislation that says that."

As long as there is Obamacare to deal with, a repeal of the vaping industry’s FDA deeming regulations will probably have to take a back seat.  In the meantime, Gottlieb has already extended the PMTA deadline by a full five years to 2022.

A nomination of Gottlieb to run the HHS may have been a nice idea, but keeping him in his current post at the FDA has its merits, too.  After all, this is the man who recently went on CNBC in August to promote the virtues of “vaping science” by making the simple, but oh-so-accurate statement, “It’s not the nicotine that kills you.  It’s all the other carcinogens in lighting tobacco on fire.”


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