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Nominee for HHS Deputy Won’t Work on Tobacco Issues

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The Obama administration’s rules on lobbyists holding government jobs would prevent a former tobacco-prevention advocate from working on tobacco issues as the second-highest official in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Wall Street Journal reported May 4.

William Corr, former executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK), was nominated as deputy HHS secretary but was previously a registered lobbyist, which makes him subject to a prohibition against participating in any matter he lobbied on within two years of taking office.

At CTFK, Corr was an outspoken proponent of giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (part of HHS) the power to regulate the tobacco industry.

Questions also have been raised over the pharmaceutical industry’s funding of CTFK and whether that represents a conflict of interest for Corr. About 3.2 percent of CTFK funding comes from the drug industry, and the group was founded with a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which in turn was created by the family of the founder of the Johnson & Johnson healthcare products firm. Some critics say that the industry benefits from supporting CTFK because pharmaceutical firms sell drugs that help people quit smoking.

“The fact that drug companies provided a tiny fraction of his former organization’s funding simply does not constitute a legal or ethical conflict,” said Norm Eisen, a White House spokesman. “If the rules prohibited government service where someone had this type of indirect, attenuated and minor connection, we could not staff government. We have absolute confidence and trust that Mr. Corr will do his job impartially and well.”

Senate confirmation of Corr’s nomination is expected as early as this week.

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