U.S. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has selected Xavier Becerra, the Democratic attorney general of California, as his nominee for secretary of health and human services, reports The New York Times.
As attorney general in California, Becerra has been at the forefront of legal efforts on health care, leading 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by his Republican counterparts. He has also been vocal in the Democratic Party about fighting for women’s health.
In a tweet, Derek Yach, president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, described the choice as a “serious missed opportunity.”
“At a time of public health crisis deep expertise in public health, medicine and science should matter,” Yacht wrote. “Sadly, this is not apparent in the pick of the lead cabinet health voice.”
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the tobacco industry in the United States, is a federal agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. It is currently led by Alex Azar.
Earlier, Biden named former FDA Commissioner David Kessler to his Covid-19 advisory board. A pediatrician, lawyer and author, Kessler led the FDA from 1990 to 1997. During his tenure, he tried but failed to bring cigarettes under the agency’s jurisdiction. The industry, which opposed regulation at the time, successfully challenged the FDA in court (FDA v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.). The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the FDA did not have the power to enact and enforce the regulations in question.
Kessler’s wish to see tobacco regulated by the FDA was eventually granted by Congress in June 2009 through the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
Our contributor Patricia Kovacevic discusses the potential impact on tobacco and nicotine of the new administration in this month’s issue of Tobacco Reporter.