America’s top public health official abruptly quit on Wednesday, a day after a report surfaced that she had bought tobacco stocks while leading the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald had also invested money in food and pharmaceutical companies just one month after taking over the job.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald quit on Tuesday following a report that she traded in tobacco and pharmaceutical stocks while she was America’s top public health official
One in five adults in the United States still uses tobacco on a regular basis, the CDC has found
Fitzgerald ‘owns certain complex financial interests that have imposed a broad recusal limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as the CDC Director,’ Health and human Services Department spokesman Matt Lloyd acknowledged in a statement on Wednesday.
‘Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.’
Politico reported on Tuesday that Fitzgerald, formerly commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, purchased shares of Japan Tobacco, Merck, U.S. Food Holding Company and Humana while at CDC.
Fitzgerald is the second top-shelf health official to leave the Trump administration in the past four months.
Dr. Tom Price was bounced from his job at the end of September following questions about his questionable use of private jets to conduct government business.
‘You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,’ former George W. Bush ethics lawyer Richard Painter told Politico.
He said the stock-picking decisions were ‘tone deaf’ from someone leading the U.S. agency responsible for reducing tobacco use nationwide, especially among children.
HHS said Tuesday that an ethics review when Fitzgerald took over the CDC identified stock holdings that posed conflicts of interest, ‘and she was instructed to divest’ them.
But a stock portfolio manager purchased additional ‘potentially conflicting stock holdings’ during the review – which she later sold.
Fitzgerald is a former U.S. Air Force major and a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist.
When Price appointed her to lead the CDC in July 2017, he praised her ‘deep appreciation and understanding of medicine, public health, policy and leadership – all qualities that will prove vital as she leads the CDC in its work to protect America’s health 24/7.’
Just one day after purchasing stock in Japan Tobacco, Fitzgerald toured the CDC’s Tobacco Laboratory.
That agency is responsible for research on the health hazards of smoking and chewing tobacco.