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A top official in the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) office of tobacco policy is leaving to join Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, according to an internal agency memo.
Matt Holman, director of the Center for Tobacco Products (CTP) Office of Science, will be leaving the agency effective immediately, according to the memo from CTP Director Brian King. Holman has been director since 2017.
His departure comes after Mitch Zeller, the longtime CTP head, retired in April. King was appointed director earlier this month.
“I know that he led the Office through a critical time, including preparing for and overseeing review for the bolus of PMTA [premarket tobacco product application] applications. I’m grateful to Matt for his contributions to the Center and unwavering commitment to you all over the years, and I wish him well in his next chapter,” King said in the memo.
The FDA is facing a series of major tobacco-related decisions in the coming weeks and months, including a potential ban on menthol cigarettes, lowering nicotine levels, and the next step in its ongoing attempt to regulate Juul and other electronic cigarettes.
According to the memo, Holman has been on leave and has recused himself from all CTP and FDA work while exploring career opportunities outside government. In a statement to The Hill, the FDA would not say when Holman’s recusal began.
“Agency employees are free to pursue employment outside of the government and are required to immediately disclose that they are exploring opportunities outside the government,” an FDA spokeswoman said.
“We can say that in this instance, once the agency was made aware by Dr. Holman of his intention to explore new career opportunities, consistent with government ethics rules, he was recused from all tobacco-related regulatory decision making at the agency. This is a personnel matter; therefore we have no further comment,” the FDA added.
Philip Morris, most famous for Marlboro cigarettes, is currently marketing a smokeless heated tobacco product called IQOS.
Holman and the agency signed off on a third-generation version of IQOS in March. IQOS was first authorized for sale in 2019. In 2020, FDA authorized it as a Modified Risk Tobacco Product, allowing the company to legally claim that fully switching from regular cigarettes to IQOS can reduce a person’s exposure to harmful chemicals.
A spokesperson for Philip Morris said Holman “is committed to helping existing adult smokers access scientifically substantiated smoke-free alternatives while protecting youth. We are looking forward to him joining our team as we continue to pursue a smoke free future.”
The company did not disclose what his role will be.