Another top-level executive at 22nd Century Group Inc. is departing as the company entered 2020 with regulatory momentum behind its very-low-nicotine version of traditional cigarettes.
The company said in a regulatory filing Tuesday that Thomas James, its general counsel and secretary since May 2014, disclosed plans Monday to retire within 30 days for what the company termed “personal and family reasons.”
The company, based in Williamsville, N.Y., operates a tobacco-manufacturing plant in Mocksville, where it had 70 of its 79 employees at last count. It also is involved in the development of hemp and cannabis products.
The company said James’s resignation “is not the result of any disagreement with the company on any matter relating to the company’s operations, policies or practices.” 22nd Century did not disclose plans to replace James.
James has been one of 22nd Century’s listed executives in its annual compensation reports. In fiscal 2019, James received $218,154 in salary, up 7.3% from a year earlier; a $60,000 bonus; and total compensation of $523,856, up 24.9% from fiscal 2018.
Currently 22nd Century is searching for its third chief executive in five months. The last CEO, Clifford Fleet announced on Dec. 13 that he was leaving.
Fleet took over Wednesday as the president and chief executive of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He remains on 22nd Century’s board of directors and will help an executive committeechoose his replacement.
Fleet became 22nd Century’s chief executive Aug. 3. He served as Philip Morris USA’s chief executive and president from November 2013 to May 2017. He signed a three-year employment contract Sept. 9 that would have automatically renewed on an annual basis. His initial base salary was $395,000.
On July 26, Henry Sicignano III unexpectedly resigned as chief executive for what the company described as “personal reasons.” He had been the chief executive since March 2015 and president since January 2011.
Sicignano agreed to serve as a consultant for up to 3½ years at $200,000 a year. He signed a non-compete contract for an unspecified length of time.
22nd Century promoted chief operating officer Michael Zercher to president, effective Dec. 13. Zercher signed a three-year employment contract on Sept. 9 that renews annually at an initial base salary of $350,000.
On Dec. 31, 22nd Century disclosed the salary compensation for Andrea Sentsch, who was promoted to chief financial officer on Dec. 3. She will make a base salary of $250,000 and eligible for cash bonus awards.
On Dec. 17, 22nd Century received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market and sell two styles — Moonlight and Moonlight menthol — of its very-low-nicotine traditional cigarettes.
The company bases its claim of 95% less nicotine on its cigarettes containing just 0.5 milligrams of nicotine per gram of tobacco, compared with an average of 20 milligrams, or 0.71 ounces, for many of the top-selling traditional cigarette brands.
Those products entered the premarket tobacco-application process in December 2018. The premarket standard requires the FDA to consider products’ risks and benefits to the population as a whole, including users and nonusers.
Mitch Zeller, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said FDA authorization represents the first product “to successfully demonstrate the potential for these types of tobacco products to help reduce nicotine dependence among addicted smokers.”