Certainly it is egregious that Brenda Fitzgerald, the Trump-appointed director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, purchased tobacco industry stock (“CDC chief quits over tobacco, other investments,” Page A3, Feb. 1). After all, Big Tobacco is responsible for the leading cause of preventable disease and death on the planet, making it an abhorrent investment for a person in her role. But such a conflict isn’t shocking in our government, especially in this administration, and it highlights a longstanding virus plaguing our democracy: corporate conflicts of interest.
It’s all too fitting that such a high-profile resignation would occur at the hands of a tobacco-industry conflict — Big Tobacco invented the playbook for how to infiltrate every level of government to block, weaken, and delay public-health policies. It’s that same playbook that has been employed by every abusive industry, from Big Food to Big Oil.
Thankfully, there’s an international precedent to prevent such conflicts of interest. Article 5.3 of the World Health Organization’s global tobacco treaty, to which the United States is a signatory, prescribes measures to put policy making behind a firewall from the interference of Big Tobacco, prevent revolving doors, and eliminate conflicts of interest such as those of now-former CDC chief Fitzgerald.
Now more than ever, we need to put these precedents into action. Our democracy depends on it.