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Remarks on 10th Anniversary of the Center for Tobacco Products

Eric D. Hargan
FDA leadership and staff
June 24, 2019
FDA Center for Tobacco Products

The work you have done over the past decade has made a tangible impact on the American people. It has informed Americans, helped put them in charge of their own health, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Mitch, for that kind introduction, and thank you all for being here today.

It's always a pleasure to visit the FDA, because it's an honor to speak to people who are so committed to protecting our country's public health. Here, you are doing remarkable work at the Center for Tobacco Products, fighting—and winning—the battle against tobacco use. I'm so glad to be here to help celebrate the work you have done and the progress you have made.

I also want to thank Dr. Sharpless for his leadership at FDA. He has continued many of the important efforts begun by Commissioner Gottlieb, and one of the most important of those is curtailing tobacco use that can lead to nicotine addiction. Dr. Gottlieb left big shoes to fill, but Dr. Sharpless has embraced the role—without, as far as I know, filling them with socks as whacky as Dr. Gottlieb's—and is excelling at the job. I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say today.

Before I begin, I want to congratulate you all on reaching your 10 year anniversary. That's quite a milestone and you should be proud of your hard work. I know that Secretary Azar and I certainly are.

In fact, as part of my job, I meet with foreign ministers of health. More than once, they have lauded the American success in bringing down smoking rates over the past few decades, often drawn in contrast to their own efforts. Our success here has been well-recognized. The U.S public health community deserves a great deal of credit for this achievement, and central to these successful efforts for the past decade is this Center.

The work you have done over the past decade has made a tangible impact on the American people. It has informed Americans, helped put them in charge of their own health, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Knowledge is power, and the knowledge each of you help to disseminate to the American people, and especially our children and teenagers, has a direct link to improving the health and well-being of future generations. You all know this well, and I'm sure that is why many of you have dedicated your careers to this cause.

However, while we are here to celebrate your tremendous accomplishments, we're also here to remind ourselves that our work is far from done.

You all know the stats better than most: tobacco use – largely through cigarette smoking – still kills more than 480,000 Americans every single year. This means that hundreds of thousands of Americans are still dying from something that is completely preventable.

These are real people whose lives are devastated by the diseases caused by tobacco use. The work you're doing here is seeking to change that, and I'm thankful that you've accepted this mission and are accomplishing it with excellence.

I know each of you can also appreciate the huge financial cost nicotine addiction has on the United States, as well. As I'm sure you all know, tobacco use costs nearly $300 billion a year in direct healthcare costs and lost productivity. Again, that high cost is completely preventable. I'd go even further than that: Just think of the other public health problems we could tackle if we could divert what we spend on combating nicotine addiction to other pressing public health matters.

There's a reason why the Washington Post said the Center's vision for lowering nicotine levels in cigarettes to minimally or non-addictive levels is one of the most important public health initiatives of this century— that's pretty high praise. You're going to make other HHS components jealous! Or more ambitious—and that's never a bad thing.

I can tell this Center is passionate about its mission. I know that's partially due to the fact that many of you have a personal connection to the work done here. Many of you work here because your life has been directly affected by the harms caused by tobacco use. Some of you have tragically lost a loved one, or even experienced the hardship of nicotine addiction yourself. You've seen the harm an addiction to nicotine can create and want to help future generations stop this addiction before it starts.

At the same time you are advancing your work to cut down on deaths from tobacco, the Center has worked to respond wisely and expeditiously to a new addiction threat we face: the epidemic of use of e-cigarettes among young Americans. This also is a top priority for Secretary Azar, for me, and for the entire Trump Administration.

We have to balance the opportunity for these products to serve as an off-ramp from addiction to combustible cigarettes while, at the same time, ensuring they're not becoming an on-ramp to a lifetime of nicotine addiction for our kids. That is incredibly complex work, but I am confident that the talent and expertise here at the Center is ready to do our very best, with America's public health top of mind.

I want you to know that the Secretary and I value your work and we're extremely proud to call you all friends and colleagues. We, and the entire HHS family, are completely committed to thwarting one of the biggest public health challenges of our day. This can't be done without you, so, please keep up the great work, and thank you again for all you've done to help protect and promote the health of the American people.

Thank you.

Content created by Speechwriting and Editorial Division 
Content last reviewed on June 26, 2019