VA Official Will Head FDA’s Tobacco Division

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration tapped a Veterans Affairs official with a long history of public-health experience to head the agency’s new tobacco division.

Lawrence Deyton was the chief public-health officer at the VA and initiated smoking-cessation programs that lowered smoking rates among veterans. He has served in the National Institutes of Health, started a community-based AIDS service organization in Washington, D.C., and was a legislative aide with the House Subcommittee on Health and the Environment in the 1970s.

His experience at building public-health initiatives should come in handy as the FDA grapples with how to regulate the deep-pocketed tobacco industry. The FDA received authority in June to regulate the industry after years of contentious debate in Congress, the public-health arena and among tobacco firms.

Dr. Deyton will lead a division that is charged with restricting tobacco advertising and promotions, collecting user fees from tobacco companies and stopping the illegal sales of cigarettes and other products to children.

He said in a statement he was eager for what he sees as a “tremendous opportunity” to “make progress in combating tobacco use — the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.”

His appointment won praise from public-health advocates. Dr. Deyton is “a highly respected and experienced public health leader,” said Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, adding, he has a “longstanding appreciation of the importance of tobacco.”

Though the law giving the FDA authority to regulate tobacco is specific, there is some room for discretion — and that is where Dr. Deyton may have the biggest effect. In anticipation of FDA oversight, large tobacco companies such as Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris and Reynolds American Inc. have been in recent years aggressively developing smokeless-tobacco products that are dissolvable in the mouth.

Companies want to be able to market the products as being less risky than traditional tobacco products. The new tobacco law says they can’t, unless they prove so. Dr. Deyton will likely be a key player in determining what benchmarks companies have to reach to show their products are less risky.

© Copyright: AUGUST 19, 2009 Wsj

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