Xavier Becerra has been confirmed as the new secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency that oversees the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
He was confirmed by the Senate yesterday by a vote of 50-49, nearly entirely on party lines. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined 49 Democrats to confirm. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was not present as she was in Hawaii dealing with a family emergency.
Becerra most recently served as the attorney general for the state of California. In that role, his office has sued e-cigarette maker JUUL and begun the process of defending California’s new flavored tobacco law from challenges.
As the secretary of HHS, he also oversees FDA, the agency tasked with regulating tobacco products, including cigars. His thoughts on premium cigars are not well-publicized, though, in 2018, Becerra and three other state attorneys general sent a letter to FDA when the agency was seeking public comment on whether to introduce different regulations for premium cigars.
That letter argued that premium cigars should not receive lax regulations compared to other tobacco products. It also argued that FDA should require warning labels for premium cigars, something that is no longer legal due to court rulings.
Dr. Janet Woodcock is currently serving as the acting commissioner for FDA and was expected to be nominated for the permanent role as FDA head. However, several senators have raised concerns over her alleged role in making opioids more accessible creating uncertainty about whether she will be formally nominated for the role. Like Becerra, the FDA commissioner must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Featured image via the Office of the Attorney General for the state of California