Amidst a deadly flu outbreak in the United States, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, has resigned from her post as the director of the CDC.
Fitzgerald’s abrupt resignation, which came on Wednesday, arrives on the heels of a report from Politico highlighting her acquisition of tobacco stocks while in office.
While it’s not illegal to invest in big tobacco companies by buying their publicly traded shares, it does pose a potential conflict of interest for the director of the CDC as the agency is tasked with reducing the number of smoking related deaths in the United States.
Japan Tobacco International (JTI), one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, currently owns the top selling electronic cigarette brand in the United States, Juul.
As we previously reported, Fitzgerald eventually sold her shares in JTI in an attempt to divest herself of any holdings that might pose a conflict of interest. However, it appears to have been too little too late as she resigned shortly after Politico reported on her stake in JTI.
Until a new director of the CDC has been named, the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, will serve as the agency’s acting director – a role that’s by no means new to Schuchat as she previously served in the role during the first half of 2017, after which point Fitzgerald was appointed by the Trump administration and took over as the agency’s head.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, was quoted by The Hill as having said that the “agency’s remaining leadership can handle this until a new director is named.” He added that the agency needs to make sure that the new director is not only “science-based,” but knowledgeable about public health so that “they can hit the ground running.”
“The agency’s remaining leadership can handle this until a new director is named. We need to ensure the next director is science-based and knows public health well so they can hit the ground running.”
While the exact amount Fitzgerald invested in JTI during her tenure as head of the CDC remains unclear at this time, Politico reported based on records disclosed as a result of the Stock Act that her investment in the company was between $1,001 and $15,000.