The Surgeon General Owns Stock in Tobacco Companies


The US has a new Surgeon General. After Trump suddenly pushed out the previous Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, he nominated Jerome Adams, M.D., an anesthesiologist and med-school professor who also has a master’s degree in public health. When Mike Pence was governor of Indiana, he chose Adams as that state’s top public-health official. Adams made his biggest mark by daringly setting up a needle exchange program to combat a surge in HIV that was blamed in large part on shared needles among drug users.

Adams breezed though his Senate confirmation in early August to become the federal official most directly associated with the nation’s health. The Surgeon General isn’t able to create or enforce regulations, but Adams now has the power to set agendas and push public policy. Although Surgeons General have dealt with issues such as AIDS/HIV, suicide, skin cancer, and, most recently, opioid addiction and Zika, the position’s signature issue is smoking.

Since 1970, every pack of cigarettes sold in America carries a “Surgeon General’s Warning” about the severe health effects of smoking. Every print advertisement for tobacco products likewise displays this austere warning in a white rectangle.

So it’s astonishing – literally unbelievable – to find out that Surgeon General Adams owns stock in Big Tobacco.

It’s right there in his paperwork for the Office of Government Ethics and the Department of Health & Human Services. His ethics agreement and his public financial disclosure both list five tobacco/cigarette corporations among his stocks:

In his ethics agreement, he, like all other executive branch nominees, promises to divest himself of assets that could cause a conflict of interest, or even appear to cause a conflict, within 90 days of confirmation. Among the 150 or so stocks he lists are Philip Morris International, Altria (formerly known as Philip Morris Companies), Reynolds American, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Brands (the world’s fourth-largest tobacco corporation).

His financial disclosure gives a bit more information: The tobacco stocks are part of one of his rollover Individual Retirement Accounts. He owns $1,001 to $15,000 of each stock. (Amounts are given in ranges, rather than precise figures.) A different rollover IRA contains an additional $1,001-$15,000 of Altria stock.

Just to add to the surrealism of the situation, in his role as Indiana State Health Commissioner from October 2014 until becoming Surgeon General, Adams was in charge of that state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission.

On a related note, Adams also owns stock in McDonald’s and Monster Beverage, thus earning money from fast food and junk drinks in this age of obesity and type II diabetes.

I’ve asked the Surgeon General’s media contact whether Adams has sold his stocks yet. They have not replied as of this writing. Adams still has 2.5 months to divest, so he’s not late, but whether he owns the stock at this exact moment is a technicality. He soon won’t own it. But the staggering thing is that he has owned tobacco stock as a doctor, as Indiana’s highest public-health official, as the nominee for Surgeon General (didn’t anyone in the Senate read his disclosure?), and into his term as “America’s Doctor.”

Adams’ financial disclosure is not posted online by the Office of Government Ethics or the Department of Health & Human Services, so I’ve posted it here: PDF

His ethics agreement is here: PDF, and as page images below.


Note: Title 1 of the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, as amended, 5 U.S.C. app. § 105(c), states that: It shall be unlawful for any person to obtain or use a report: (A) for any unlawful purpose; (B) for any commercial purpose, other than by news and communications media for dissemination to the general public; (C) for determining or establishing the credit rating of any individual; or (D) for use, directly or indirectly, in the solicitation of money for any political, charitable, or other purpose. The Attorney General may bring a civil action against any person who obtains or uses a report for any purpose prohibited in paragraph (1) of this subsection. The court in which such action is brought may assess against such person a penalty in any amount not to exceed $11,000. Such remedy shall be in addition to any other remedy available under statutory or common law.

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