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CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald Resigns After Reports Show Investment In Tobacco Stocks


The nation's top public health official resigned today. This follows reports that Brenda Fitzgerald had bought shares in a tobacco company after she became head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC is charged with reducing tobacco use. This is not the first time a Trump administration official has resigned because of financial conflicts, as NPR's Alison Kodjak reports.

ALISON KODJAK, BYLINE: Fitzgerald had been shadowed by financial conflicts since she took over at the CDC in July. She recused herself from working on issues related to cancer and opioids, two major public health threats, because of investments that she said were difficult to divest. Then Politico reported yesterday that she purchased shares in Japan Tobacco last summer after she arrived at CDC.

RICHARD PAINTER: It should be obvious that anyone working with the United States government in connection with public health should not be buying tobacco stock.

KODJAK: That's Richard Painter, who was White House ethics lawyer for George W. Bush.

PAINTER: This is only one of several very high-ranking people in the Trump administration who've had serious financial conflicts of interest.

KODJAK: Painter refers to former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who also owned health care stocks when he was in Congress and then was forced to resign last fall after revelations that he used expensive private jets for government travel. The Department of Health and Human Services says Fitzgerald resigned because she had separate investments that created conflicts, and she was required to hold on to them for a defined period of time.

As for the tobacco shares, the agency says her financial adviser bought them without her knowledge along with shares in the drug makers Merck and Bayer, the health insurer Humana and U.S. Food. Having to sell investments to take a government job can be difficult, said Georges Benjamin, the executive director of the American Public Health Association. Even so, owning tobacco stocks is particularly troublesome.

GEORGES BENJAMIN: Tobacco is uniquely a problem because it's the leading preventable cause of death. It's something that any CDC director is going to have to actively address.

KODJAK: Both Benjamin and Painter say the situation at CDC shows that there's a lack of strong ethics guidance in the Trump administration. Alison Kodjak, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alison Fitzgerald Kodjak is a health policy correspondent on NPR's Science Desk.
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