CDC director resigns after reports of buying tobacco stock

Brenda Fitzgerald, MD, has resigned as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) after it was reported she bought shares in a tobacco company after taking over the top job at the agency that leads federal smoking prevention efforts.

Her investments were first reported by POLITICO, which found several stock purchases after she assumed the CDC post on July 7 that could be considered conflicts of interests, among them Japan Tobacco and health insurer Humana. She sold all of those tobacco shares and stock holdings above $1,000 by Nov. 21.

“You don’t buy tobacco stocks when you are the head of the CDC. It’s ridiculous; it gives a terrible appearance,” Richard Painter, who served as President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, told POLITICO.

On the morning of Jan. 31, she offered her resignation, according to a statement from HHS.

“Dr. 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,” according to HHS spokesperson Matt Lloyd. “Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period.”

Fitzgerald is the second high-ranking health official under the Trump administration to resign over ethical questions raised by a POLITICO story. Tom Price, MD, gave up his post as HHS Secretary after POLITICO reported he had taken charter flights at taxpayers’ expense when cheaper commercial air travel appeared to be available.