Last night, news broke that Dr. Ned Sharpless has been named as successor to Scott Gottlieb, the FDA’s outgoing commissioner.
Gottlieb has been the focus of widespread criticism from conservatives for defying the Trump administration’s generally deregulatory instincts and launching what some conservatives see as an outright “war” on vaping products under the guise of stopping teenage vaping.
Sharpless could wind up subject to the same criticism– but that’s assuming he can even get confirmed to the job.
But Sharpless may have a fatally huge problem facing him if he really wants to run the agency: Sen. Richard Burr.
Not only does Burr represent North Carolina, which is home to Reynolds American, Inc., a top maker of vapor products (as well as traditional cigarettes) that has tangled with teenage vaping hawks before.
Sharpless also personally has opposed Burr’s runs for office before, including donating to Burr’s Democratic opponent for his Senate seat in 2010.
He has donated to a slew of other North Carolina Democrats as well, including former Sen. Kay Hagan who was defeated in 2014 by Sen. Thom Tillis, as well as the campaign of former President Barack Obama and former Democratic Presidential nominee John Kerry.
But the donation to Burr’s opponent, coupled with Sharpless’ possible support for stringent vapor product regulation will be much more problematic for the “acting commissioner.”
Not only has Burr been highly critical of Gottlieb’s regulatory actions, which Sharpless could retain or even enhance.
Burr also sits on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee which will have jurisdiction over Sharpless’ confirmation as FDA head and which conducts oversight of FDA.
Sharpless appears to be even more of a hawk than Gottlieb where vapor regulation, ostensibly designed to combat teenage vaping, is concerned.
Here are screenshots of tweets and retweets from his official Twitter account:
Advocates of light-touch vapor regulation say this presents a problematic picture of Sharpless’ attitudes towards vaping as an alternative to smoking.
Some public health experts believe vaping is much less harmful than smoking and may assist with smoking cessation.
It is unclear how Sharpless managed to get the nod from the Trump administration given all of this.
Trump routinely crusades against partisan Democrats.
It appears from Sharpless’ donation history that he is one even if he has not donated to campaigns or committees required to make their donors’ identities public in recent years.