Distributed March 16, 2001
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Scott Turner

The search for the smoking gun

Former FDA head David Kessler to discuss confronting ‘Big Tobacco’

On Thursday, April 5, 2001, at 4:30 p.m., David Kessler, M.D., will speak about “Tobacco Wars” in the Salomon Center for Teaching, located on The College Green. His lecture will be followed by a question and answer session. It is free and open to the public.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. —David Kessler, M.D., former head of the Food and Drug Administration and now dean of the Yale University School of Medicine, will present The Paul Levinger Lecture at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 5, 2001, in the Salomon Center for Teaching, located on The College Green. His talk, titled “Tobacco Wars,” will be followed by a question and answer session. The lecture is free and open to the public.

As commissioner of the FDA from 1990 to 1997, Kessler went where no regulator had dared to go: He took on “Big Tobacco.” That meant getting inside one of the nation’s most secretive and powerful industries, a journey that began with research into whether nicotine was addictive. The goal was to label and regulate nicotine as a drug and to establish that the manufacturers of this drug intended to deliver the nicotine, an addictive substance, through their products.

“I will give a sense of what it is like to decide to take on one of the most powerful industries – one that had the greatest effect on the nation’s health in the last century,” Kessler said of his presentation. Kessler chronicles the battle against Big Tobacco in his new book, A Question of Intent. He will be available for a brief book signing after his talk.

Kessler recounts taking over a weakened FDA beset by deregulation zeal. He worked to speed approval of new drugs and to get promising therapies to ill patients. Under his direction, new FDA programs included nutrition labeling for food; user fees for approving drugs and biologics; preventive controls to improve food safety; measures to strengthen the nation’s blood supply; and regulation of the marketing and sale of tobacco products to children.

Initially, tobacco was not on Kessler’s agenda. But soon after entering public service, he was confronted with the question, “Why didn’t the FDA regulate a consumer product that was the nation’s number one killer?”

Acclaimed for its gripping narrative and intrigue, A Question of Intent provides the legal, scientific and political background behind the FDA’s effort to regulate tobacco, as well as a long look at the industry’s successful concealment of intent.

Kessler also details how far Big Tobacco could spread its tentacles. For example, he notes that Phillip Morris considered buying The Atlantic Monthly and other media outlets to influence public policy and information flow. The tobacco industry even looked to influence Islamic leaders to put a pro-smoking spin on their Koran interpretation, he said.

Despite a public admission by Phillip Morris that nicotine was indeed a drug and despite extensive evidence that cigarette makers engineered products to deliver precise and powerful nicotine doses, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in December 1999 that the FDA did not have the authority to regulate tobacco.

Kessler “embodies a physician who has made a career of combining public service, medical education and the application of research findings to improving public health,” said Terrie Wetle, associate dean of medicine for public health and public policy. “He has also illustrated the power of economic forces in health-care regulation. He is best known for taking courageous positions in safeguarding public health by taking on substantial adversaries such as the tobacco industry. But he also worked very hard to improve FDA procedures. He helped bring the FDA into the 21st century.”

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Amherst College, Kessler received a J.D. degree from The University of Chicago Law School and an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School.

From 1984 until his FDA appointment in 1990, Kessler was medical director of the Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. From 1986 to 1990, he taught food and drug law at the Columbia University School of Law. He was also a consultant to the United States Labor and Human Resources Committee from 1981 to 1984.

The Paul Levinger Professorship Pro Tem in the Economics of Health Care was endowed in 1987 to honor the memory of Paul Levinger by his wife, the late Ruth N. Levinger, and his daughter and son-in-law, Bette Levinger Cohen and John M. Cohen ’59 M.D.

For more information about the Kessler lecture, call (401) 863-1634.