David A. Kessler

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

David A. Kessler, M.D., J.D. is a former Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He was appointed FDA Commissioner by the first President George Bush in December 1990 and served until 1997. Kessler asserted in 1994 that cigarettes should be regulated by the FDA and that nicotine should be considered a drug under the federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. This assertion led to the promulgation of rules narrowly tailored to protect youth from nicotine addiction, like the use of "tombstone" advertising (black and white text only), and restrictions on point of sale advertising. FDA's jurisdiction over nicotine was challenged in court and ultimately the Supreme Court ruled on a split decision (5 to 4) that only Congress has the ability to direct FDA to regulate cigarettes.


David Kessler was born in 1951 in New York. He completed his law degree in 1977 at the University of Chicago, and obtained his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1979. [2]

David Kessler was a Pediatrician and was appointed FDA Commissioner by President George Herbert Walker Bush in December 1990. He obtained medical and law degrees and worked for Senator Orrin Hatch while completing his pediatrics residency.(AP 3/27/94) He wrote a letter in February 1994 to the Coalition on Smoking OR Health which said, in part, "It is our understanding that manufacturers commonly add nicotine to cigarettes to deliver specific amounts of nicotine."(U.S. News 4/18/94)

Kessler testified in 1994 that new FDA tests show that the proportion of nicotine in some brands actually goes up as the level of tar goes down, contrary to industry claims that tar and nicotine levels fall in tandem.(U.S. News 4/18/94)[1]

Dr. Kessler became Dean of Yale University School of Medicine in July, 1997 and served in that post until June of 2003, when he assumed the position of Dean of the University of California San Francisco Medical School. He was fired from that post in December 2007 by Chancellor Dr. J. Michael Bishop, the same person who sought him out and hired him in the position. The circumstances surrounding his firing were unclear. Dr. Kessler asserted that there were financial irregularities in UCSF Medical School's budget. He stated that the budget figures presented to him during his hiring process were substantially different than budget figured he received after he was hired. The irregularities caused him to become concerned about the school's solvency. In June 2007 he was asked to resign his position and keep his concerns about the budget quiet. Dr. Kessler refused to resign and was subsequently fired.[3][4]


  • A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry. Kessler, David A. Public Affairs; 1st edition. January 9, 2001. 400 pages. ISBN 978-1891620805.


  1. Directors, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, accessed August 6, 2009.
  2. Bio: "FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, M.D.," U.S. Food and Drug Administration, accessed January 2008.
  3. UCSF dean is fired, cites whistle-blowing, Ornstein C. Los Angeles Times; California local news, December 15, 2007
  4. Firing of UCSF dean a climax to years of disputes over finances, Ornstein C. Los Angeles Times; California local news; December 16, 2007

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