President Trump announced Friday plans to nominate Dr. Scott Gottlieb to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the government entity that now holds regulatory power over the premium cigar industry. Gottlieb, 44, a conservative and longtime physician, served as a deputy commissioner of the FDA under President George W. Bush and is currently a partner at the venture capital firm New Enterprise Associates. In 2012, he penned an opinion piece for the New York Post speaking out against FDA regulation of cigars.
It is still entirely unclear what this might mean for the FDA's ongoing regulation of the tobacco industry. But Gottlieb, if approved by Congress, would be coming in under a president who has expressed a desire to slash regulations. President Trump, however, has not made remarks specific to exempting or reforming cigar regulation.
"We think it's a very good choice that the President made," said Craig Williamson, president of the Cigar Association of America, to Cigar Aficionado. The CAA, the Cigar Rights of America, and the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers association are currently involved in a lawsuit against the FDA, and Williamson believes the nomination is a step in the right direction for the agency. "We look forward to working with the new administration in hopes of creating a set of fair regulations for the cigar industry," he added.
Critics have expressed concern over Gottlieb's ties to the drug industry (he's a consultant and board member for several pharmaceutical companies) and Wall Street. However, he's seen as a moderate pick compared to Jim O'Neill, an investment banker who the Trump Administration was also strongly considering for the role.
"We're very encouraged by the nomination of Dr. Gottlieb," said Daniel Trope, director of federal government affairs for the International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers organization. "His past statements and articles show he recognizes the difference between premium cigars and other cigar products and we're looking forward to having a productive dialogue with him...should he be approved."
Trope cautioned that the IPCPR doesn't want to take any appointment for granted, stating that no matter what, they still have a long fight ahead of them.
Glynn Loope, executive director of the Cigar Rights of America, also views Gottlieb's nomination as a positive move for the premium cigar industry.
"CRA is certainly pleased that the President's administration is moving swiftly to place new management at the FDA," he said. "We hope that Dr. Gottlieb brings an air of objectivity and balance to the agency. His previous op-ed piece that addressed the role of premium and large cigars in the regulatory process clearly indicates that he has a working knowledge of our issues, and as to why they should be treated differently."
Should Gottlieb be confirmed, Loope said he plans to request an audience with Gottlieb and his staff.
"2017 is a critical turning point with Congress and the Administration, and these new appointments present a unique opportunity to have discussions and to facilitate actions that can work toward protecting the premium cigar industry from the proposed regulations that can clearly have a detrimental impact on this artisan industry that does not deserve the treatment that has been advanced by the FDA," he said.
Looped added that cigar smokers should not be waiting to see what transpires, but should instead reach out "to their members of Congress in support of H.R. 564 and S. 294," which are the bills in Congress that seek to exempt premium cigars from FDA regulation. Cigar lovers can visit www.cigarrights.org to sign a petition.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb received a Doctor of Medicine from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in 1999, according to a briefing released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary. In 2005, he was appointed as the Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs at the FDA, and was awarded the agency's Special Recognition Award in 2007.
A Senate vote is now required to confirm Gottlieb's nomination.