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Big Trouble For Big Tobacco

The Obama administration announced this morning that it is nominating Tom Frieden, public health commissioner for the city of New York, as director for the Centers of Disease Control (CDC). It's a critical position in the govenrment--as the swine flu outbreak demonstrated--and, from what I've heard, Frieden is a strong pick.

Among other things, Frieden has been a tireless and effective crusader against smoking, as Politico's Ben Smith observes. Frieden is also, shall we say, not afraid to speak his mind. Check out this passage from a old profile of Frieden, which Smith wrote while he was at the New York Observer:

Not long after he compared tobacco executives unfavorably to tuberculosis bacilli, Dr. Thomas Frieden got a letter from a senior vice president at Philip Morris U.S.A.

"To have the New York City Health Commissioner describe any group of human beings as a 'low-life form' is especially inappropriate," the executive wrote. "Such statements have been used throughout history to justify the worst kind of bigotry."

Dr. Frieden thought about it. He realized Philip Morris was right.

"Now I stick to, you know, unemotional language," he told The Observer one recent morning in his sunny office. "I describe the as mass murderers."

Frieden's appointment comes not long after Obama handed the Food and Drug Administration over to Margaret Hamburg and Joshua Sharfstein, who may not speak of the tobacco industry with quite the same language but, by all accounts, hold it in similarly low regard.

Update: Reader "tnmats" writes: "More signs big tobacco is dying: Here in [North Carolina] our legislature passed a bill this week banning smoking in restaurants and bars. I never thought I'd see such a bill pass in my lifetime and the governor is poised to sign the bill. Hell has frozen over."

Note: Sorry for the light posting this week. Was scrambling on a print piece.  

--Jonathan Cohn