Mitch Zeller, the outgoing director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Tobacco Products (CTP), described his tenure at the center as “incredible rewarding.” “I’ve had the opportunity to work with the best, hardest working people in the world and we’ve gotten a lot done, so my time here has been a joy,” he said in an interview published on the FDA website ahead of his retirement from public service in April.
Zeller joined the CTP as director in March 2013. During his tenure, the center grew from 426 people to more than 1,110. The CTP, said Zeller, also published multiple foundational rules and took action on just over 99 percent of marketing applications for 6.7 million products.
Asked about the remaining challenges for the CTP, Zeller cited the importance of taking action on the remaining marketing applications, but noted that the center and the agency are “more than up to the task.” He also stressed the importance of evidence-based policies.
“We must be faithful to our responsibility that whatever decision we make on any of them is firmly grounded in the science, whether we’re issuing a marketing authorization or a marketing denial order,” said Zeller.
Asked what advice he would give to the next CTP director, Zeller said he would encourage him or her to ask questions. “You’ll be working with extraordinarily talented people in the Commissioner’s Office and throughout the agency as well as the Department of Health and Human Services,” he said. “A lot of new insights and good thinking can come from people hearing a question that hadn’t occurred to them.
On the future of tobacco regulation, the outgoing CTP director said the opportunity over the next three to five years is for the center to continue the process of building the institution. “CTP remains the “baby” center in terms of how long it’s been around compared to the other FDA centers,” he said.
“In light of that, one of the things that I think I can safely predict is that more and more of those critically important foundational regulations will be proposed and finalized. With each one that comes, CTP will become that much more mature and stood up as a center like its sister centers that have been around for many, many decades.”