A member of a key tobacco-advisory committee for the Food and Drug Administration who came under industry criticism has stepped down.
Gregory N. Connolly, a Harvard School of Public Health professor, no longer is listed on the agency’s website as a member of the panel. He didn’t respond to requests for comment.
In an email, FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura said: “Dr. Connolly has resigned from the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. His departure will not impede the schedule or progress of the Committee.”
The FDA’s website now says the 12-member committee has one vacancy.
It is unclear why Mr. Connolly left the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, which was created in the wake of landmark legislation in 2009 empowering the FDA to regulate tobacco products.
Early last year, the agency rejected a request by cigarette giant Philip Morris USA to remove Mr. Connolly and three other members of the 12-member committee after the company said the men had extensive conflicts of interest.
The Marlboro-cigarette maker, a unit of Altria Group Inc., said Mr. Connolly and the other panelists had financial and other conflicts that would undermine the panel’s credibility. The company said Mr. Connolly had provided deposition or trial testimony in lawsuits against the industry and had made “highly inflammatory statements to the media” regarding menthol cigarettes.
Mr. Connolly’s departure comes a few months before the advisory committee is scheduled to issue a report on an issue crucial to the tobacco industry—whether menthol smokes should be banned. The FDA doesn’t have to follow the panel’s recommendation and faces no deadline to act. Menthol cigarettes account for about 30% of industry sales.
Morgan Stanley analyst David Adelman, in a research note Wednesday, said Mr. Connolly’s absence makes him more confident the FDA will ultimately decide not to ban menthol as a cigarette flavoring.
Mr. Connolly’s absence “removes an individual who was the dominant anti-tobacco voice in the menthol hearings so far, and who we believe many assumed would have potentially advocated for the recommendation of a ban on menthol,” Mr. Adelman wrote.
The issue is of paramount importance to Lorillard Inc., the maker of the leading menthol brand, Newport. The product accounts for roughly 90% of the Greensboro, N.C., company’s sales.
The tobacco-advisory panel is scheduled to issue its report and recommendations on menthol cigarettes to the FDA in March. It could make less-onerous recommendations than a ban, such as new restrictions on advertising.
Mr. Connolly’s resignation was reported earlier on a tobacco-news blog published by Boston University professor Michael Siegel.
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