One Year in With Dr. Brian King

CTP Connect

One Year in With Dr. Brian King

Dr. Brian King, Director, Center for Tobacco Products

Dr. Brian King, Director, Center for Tobacco Products

Now that you’ve been the Director of the Center for Tobacco Products for a little over a year, have any of your top priorities changed or shifted? If so, why?

The top priorities I identified at the beginning of my tenure as director of CTP have continued to hold strong. I remain steadfast on our guiding principles of sound science, strategic partnerships, health equity, and clear communication and transparency.

The more experience I’ve gained in this role, the more I’m convinced that we’re on the right path. Recent product marketing decisions and enforcement efforts were supported by thoughtful and thorough scientific analysis; inroads have been made in building up our partnerships both within and outside the federal government; we continue to make meaningful inroads toward health equity through a variety of workforce and programmatic actions; and throughout this past year, CTP has made a more concerted effort to enhance communication and transparency related to our actions and activities.

None of this would be possible without the dedication and steadfast work ethic of CTP’s staff, whom I’m honored to work alongside on a daily basis to protect public health. We’ve accomplished a lot over the past year, thanks to a stronger foundation built over many years. But this hasn’t come without some challenges, which is to be expected given the complexities associated with tobacco product regulation. But I continue to be both proud and amazed by the incredible grit, determination, resilience of our staff—they are second to none!

How has your experience as a scientist helped inform CTP’s actions over the past year?

As the first scientist to assume the role of CTP Director, I do think I bring a unique perspective to the position. By nature, scientists tend to have a diverse skillset that is good to have in this role, including skills related to problem solving and analysis, teamwork, and communication. The scientific mindset tends to approach situations and problems through objective evidence evaluation, which is an important component of CTP’s work; this evidence can take on a variety of forms, including both scientific and legal evaluations. Teamwork is also important in science because it helps scientists share information and resources; we frequently have to work together if we want to advance innovation and solve problems. To solve those problems, it’s also important for scientists to package and communicate their science in a way that can have a meaningful impact; to do so, we have to consider what the key message is, how it’s delivered, and to whom it’s delivered. I use these skills on a daily basis to help achieve CTP’s mission to protect people from tobacco-related disease and death.

With sound science as one of our guiding principles, you’ll continue to see CTP using the best available science to inform our decision-making across the center’s activities. Science is, and always will be, central to the important work we’re doing. Whether we’re reviewing new tobacco products before they can be legally marketed, issuing a new rule or guidance, taking compliance and enforcement actions to hold companies accountable when we have evidence of violations of the law, or educating the public about the dangers of tobacco use, we’re examining and using a diverse skillset to inform our decisions.

How is CTP working toward meaningful change to achieve health equity in tobacco product regulation?

CTP continues to be at the forefront of advancing health equity. Rooted in science, and informed by our stakeholders, these efforts promote health equity by acknowledging and addressing disparities in tobacco use, especially among youth and young adults.

In my article “Bringing Health Equity to the Forefront of Tobacco Product Regulation,” which was published in the HPHR Journal earlier this year, I provide an in-depth look at what the center has been doing to bring health equity to the forefront of tobacco product regulation and public health education.

One of the biggest ways CTP is addressing health equity is by working to finalize two major product standards to prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and prohibit all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco) in cigars. These product standards, when finalized and implemented, will represent one of the biggest public health victories in history when it comes to addressing tobacco related disease and death—they will work to diminish the appeal of cigarettes while advancing health equity, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these products, including communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Other recent efforts to advance health equity include the “Next Legends” campaign to educate American Indian and Alaska Native youth about the harms of e-cigarettes; Spanish-language adult cessation education resources available in the Tobacco Education Resource Library; and the current development of educational resources to address racial disparities in cigarillo use.

CTP also recently welcomed Dr. Charlene Le Fauve as our center’s first Senior Advisor for Health Equity, who is a critical part of the CTP’s Senior Leadership Team and is actively working with all of CTP’s Offices to ensure health equity is integrated into the center’s programmatic plans and priorities. This position is the first of its kind at the center level at FDA and an important step toward our efforts to advance health equity in our programmatic work.

Where do you envision the center going over the next three to five years?

In order to know where you’re going, it’s important to know where you’ve been. This year, CTP marked its 14th year as a center at FDA, and we’ve made immense progress in the regulation of tobacco products since then. This has occurred amidst a dynamic tobacco product regulatory landscape, which we continuously monitor and adapt to. In doing so, we have continued to grow and evolve, including championing our successes and growing from the challenges.

Part of that evolution includes ensuring that we have a clear strategic plan—and that we update it in a way that keeps pace with the changing times. With that goal in mind, CTP is currently creating a new strategic plan to do just that. This year, leadership from across the center, with input from both internal staff and interested external parties, worked to develop this important roadmap for our future. We anticipate releasing the final strategic plan by December 2023, allowing us to dive into the new year with a newly defined and communicated purpose.

As we look forward to the release and implementation of the new strategic plan, I’m eager to continue working alongside CTP’s 1,100 dedicated employees to fulfill the center’s vision of making tobacco-related disease and death a part of our nation’s past, not our future.

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