President Biden announced today he will nominate Robert Califf to serve as FDA commissioner—a job Califf also held during the Obama administration. As we reported last month, Califf would probably steer the agency toward more severe regulation of the vaping market.
Janet Woodcock has served as acting FDA commissioner since Biden became President in January, but cannot remain in the job after mid-November without Senate confirmation. The Biden administration feared a Woodcock nomination would face strong opposition in the Senate.
Senate confirmation may not be any easier for Califf. Senator Joe Manchin has already announced his opposition to the nominee.
Califf previously held the commissioner job during President Obama’s final year in office, overseeing the rollout of the Deeming Rule, which gave the FDA Center for Tobacco Products regulatory authority over e-cigarettes and other tobacco-free nicotine products.
Califf is a cardiologist, and an adjunct professor at both Duke and Stanford Universities. He is also a senior adviser to Verily Life Sciences and Google Health, according to the New York Times. He has done paid consulting work for Merck, Amgen, Biogen, Genentech, Eli Lilly, and Boehringer Ingelheim.
Califf’s nomination isn’t guaranteed. During his previous nomination process, he faced strong opposition from several senators over his connections to the pharmaceutical industry. Democrats Bernie Sanders, Joe Manchin, Richard Blumenthal and Edward Markey were especially skeptical about Califf, along with Republican Kelly Ayotte. However, despite vocal opposition, the Senate approved his 2016 nomination by an 89-4 vote.
Califf has strong—and mostly negative—opinions about vaping, and as commissioner would probably support the agency’s current intention to shadow ban flavors by demanding a higher standard of evidence for products that aren’t tobacco-flavored. In the past he has supported making e-cigarettes available only by prescription.
Califf has already received an endorsement from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.