MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

FDA Chief and Vaping Opponent Scott Gottlieb Is Leaving the Food and Drug Administration

When and wherever public health conflicted with personal freedom, Gottlieb advocated for the former.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS/NewscomBRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS/NewscomScott Gottlieb, an internal medicine doctor and veteran of the federal health care bureaucracy, will leave the FDA next month, according to multiple reports.

Gottlieb's tenure began with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) implying he was a shill for big pharma and asking him during his spring 2017 confirmation hearing if he thought the FDA "puts too high a priority on championing safety and unborn babies." Two years later, his track record resembles that of his Democratic predecessors. As a regulator, he has employed both incentives and punishments, particularly with branded drug companies seeking to shut out generic competitors, opioid makers, nutritional supplement companies, and nicotine product manufacturers. When and wherever public health conflicted with personal freedom, Gottlieb advocated for the former.

If you've read Reason's profile of him, you already know Gottlieb was never a free market radical, but a good-government reformer and bureaucratic streamliner who's long believed that government has a role to play in both medical innovation as well as policing a massive universe of everyday products.

In April 2017, Gottlieb was confirmed 57 to 42, making him the first FDA commissioner in at least 20 years to be confirmed on a party line vote. But after taking it on the chin from Senate Democrats, Gottlieb's most vocal critics since taking over at FDA have been libertarians and conservatives. When I watched him speak to a group of people at a December 2017 event hosted by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, with which Gottlieb has been affiliated since the early 2000s, the toughest questions came from people who'd once considered him one of their own. This particular exchange is seared in my memory:

When the floor opens for questions, one is about his plan to require cigarette manufacturers to lower the nicotine in their products to a "minimally or non-addictive level."

"You want to take the nicotine out of cigarettes," the audience member says, incredulous. "Do you also want to take the alcohol out of booze?"

"The FDA does not regulate alcohol products," Gottlieb responds.

"Well, thank God for that," the questioner says, before plopping into his seat.

Gottlieb aggressively sought to restrict access to nicotine products, in particularly vaping devices. He also renewed the federal government's attempts to ban the herbal supplement kratom and pushed drugmakers to repackage the over-the-counter antidiarrheal drug loperamide, based on reports that opioid users took large doses of the drug in hopes of staving off the horrors of withdrawal. Again, the man never fashioned himself a libertarian.

Occasionally, however, he did things libertarians liked. In an era of ever more opaque government, Gottlieb was a chatterbox who personally explained many of the agency's decisions both on Twitter and in blog posts on the FDA website. He called for more access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT) for people addicted to opioids, and he was a frequent critic of drug patent holders who engaged in anticompetitive practices. That the Department of Health and Human Services continues to over-regulate MAT drugs and drug companies continue to sabotage their competitors speaks more to the limited powers of any one bureaucrat than it does to Gottlieb's commitment to changing those policies.

The Washington Post and Axios report that he's leaving due to the strain of commuting from Connecticut, where his wife and children reside. While his announcement apparently came as a surprise to some of his colleagues and officials in the Trump White House, I'm not sure it would shock those who have worked with him in the past.

"He knows that you basically have two years to accomplish anything," AEI's Joseph Antos told me back in 2017. The two were colleagues during one of Gottlieb's stints at the American Enterprise Institute. "Maybe in Scott's case it will be longer than that, but whatever the length of time is, it's very brief. You do all you can and then it's somebody else's turn."

Hopefully the next person up has Gottlieb's integrity, and not Trump's.

Photo Credit: BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Libertymike||

    One who is truly committed to draining the swamp would never appoint a swamp creature like Gottlieb.

    His appointment demonstrates that, instead of draining the swamp, Trump has filled it.

  • SQRLSY One||

    Yeah Man, SPEAK that TRUTH to me!!!

    Gottlieb can kiss my ass!!! Good riddance, and PLEASE, Scott Gottlieb, do NOT let the door slam into your ass TOOOO terribly hard as you leave!!!

    Also ye never did a DAMNED thing to allow me to more easily blow on a CHEAP PLASTIC FLUTE w/o glancing over my Government-Almighty -damned back all day and every day!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the FUCKING FDA flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

  • Mr. Flanders||

    I hope the door slams him so hard on the way out that he needs pain pills and is unable to get them, then he commits suicide because of the pain.

  • buybuydandavis||

    I remember the alternatives talked about when he was appointed sounded promising. Maybe we'll get someone better this time.

    Trump seems to have gotten more aggressive about pushing *his* agenda relative to the GOP establishment agenda.

  • Agammamon||

    These people are Mr Blonde before he stopped giving a fuck.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Good riddance.

  • Libertymike||

    This is where the Orange Man supporters really fall down: Trump's filling the swamp instead of honoring his pledge to drain it.

  • Zeb||

    Yup. There might be a few apparent bright spots here and there. But mostly the same old shit with a new wrapper.

    Both sides beclown themselves acting as if Trump is really some massive game-changer.

  • Robert||

    What do you want? Trump appointed someone from fucking AEI! He couldn't move the needle much in favor of enterprise, because Congress. The FFDCA's still the edict law.

    OK, so Trump's not some libertarian activist who'd know from our circles someone who'd burn it down. But could he get confirmation for such an appointment.

    And Riggs had to get in a out-of-nowhere shot at Trump in the last line.

  • Juice||

    "voluntary action is no substitute for regulatory steps"

    good riddance

    "#FDA appreciates the cooperation of companies currently marketing any kratom product for human consumption to take swift action to remove these opioid products from circulation to protect the public health"

    so long, farewell, you pos

  • Rich||

    "voluntary action is no substitute for regulatory steps"

    That is one classic quote.

  • SIV||

    Good Riddance. Gottlieb was Trump's single worse appointee by far.

  • Juice||

    Worse than Bolton? Sessions? Hmm. Yep. And that's saying a lot.

  • Rich||

    Gottlieb, an internal medicine doctor and veteran of the federal health care bureaucracy, will leave the FDA next month, according to multiple reports.

    Ah, but have these statements been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration?

    Perhaps the rest of the FDA will also be leaving.

  • Rich||

    Hillary's not running. Bloomberg's not running.

    Help us, Uncle-Joe! You're our only hope!

  • Robert||

    I think this was a case of projection & wishful thinking. Gottlieb was basically a critic of FDA's not doing its job as laid out by Congress. Free enterprisers looked at the side of that that meant FDA was holding back enterprise. But then it turns out FDA's job, as laid out by Congress, is in many respects exactly to hold back enterprise.

    So for instance it sounded good when Gottlieb expressed encouragement re the therapeutic potential of kratom, & encouraged its purveyors to go thru the normal channels to get it licensed as a drug. You could hear in that that Gottlieb had no prejudice vs. kratom & wanted it to succeed. But then you realized that what he said meant it might take a decade to get it legally onto the market, & then only if it attracted enough investment $, & until then it'd be off the legal market.

    What libertarians really need is someone who'll prevent FDA from doing its job, mostly. A cop who'll look the other way...all the time. Because Congress.

  • Rockabilly||

    Good riddance commie ass hat.

    And now I'll go back and use my Vape for my own grown marijuana.

  • SIV||

    Occasionally, however, he did things libertarians liked.

    How the fuck would you know, Riggs? Did they tell you?

  • Hank Phillips||

    Gosh... I'm gonna MISS that nazi!

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    "When the floor opens for questions, one is about his plan to require cigarette manufacturers to lower the nicotine in their products to a "minimally or non-addictive level."
    What exactly is a minimally or non-addictive level? Considering the fact that no one has ever bothered to prove that nicotine is "addictive", how would a manufacturer determine the magic number he requires? I can buy nicotine OTC at any drug store in the country in gum, patches and lozenges. I can easily consume mass quantities of nicotine with no tobacco required. But for some reason I'd rather light up a cigarette or fire up a vape.
    Having said that, it's worth remembering that Obama's FDA was poised to essentially ban vaping as it currently exists. Had Hilary been elected there is no doubt that vaping products would only be available on the black market by now. As bad as this guy is, things would be a whole lot worse if Trump hadn't been elected.

  • Gaear Grimsrud||

    "Hopefully the next person up has Gottlieb's integrity, and not Trump's." I reread the article to see if there might be some context for this gratuitous sentence. Nope. Just another cut and paste from Reason's TDS file.

  • Marc St. Stephen||

    Reading this newsflash just made my fucking day

    You know, I recall reading in the last week or two that Gottlieb was presenting to the white house his formal plan to restrict the sale of vaping flavors and such .... one wonders, given the blowback from Libertarians and some Republicans and probably from a good portion of his base, of Gottliebs very anti stance, that Trump took him aside and said, "You're done. Quit or I'm firing you"

  • Deconstructed Potato||

    Vaping will make you addicted to fentanyl-laced PCP marijuana meth bong trafficking. There is a scientific consensus to prove this. Gottlieb is right to use all his bureaucratic might to stamp out this societal disease. Pledge now to STOP VAPING.

  • buybuydandavis||

    "Two years later, his track record resembles that of his Democratic predecessors. "

    Deep State gonna Deep State.

  • Slocum||

    "When and wherever public health conflicted with personal freedom, Gottlieb advocated for the former."

    No -- in the case of vaping, Gottlieb was anti-personal freedom AND anti-public health. What was he in favor of if not freedom or health? How about -- preserving government tobacco tax revenue? Also -- preserving FDA power? And -- preserving Pharma profits from smoking cessation aids?

  • Mr. Flanders||

    Random stab at Trump? Reason contract TDS or something?

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online