Clinton OKs curbs on ads for tobacco Extensive changes aim to fight 'epidemic' of youth addiction

'A preventive strategy'

Cigarette companies, marketers say order violates Constitution

August 24, 1996|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITERS CARL M. CANNON AND WILLIAM F. ZORZI JR. CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- Labeling tobacco addiction a health epidemic among children, President Clinton ordered federal action yesterday to begin in six months to cut off youth access to cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff. In a year, the plan will attempt to reduce the advertising appeal of those items to minors.

In one key change from the original plan, the administration dropped the idea that the industry would have to put up $150 million in a media campaign to discourage use of tobacco by children.

Instead, the final order will require talks with six major companies that could lead to binding government orders that they inform minors -- mainly by television -- of the health risks of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

"Cigarettes are a legal product for adults," the president said at the White House. "They have a perfect right to decide whether to smoke."

"The cigarette companies still have a right to market their products to adults. But today, we are drawing the line on children to protect them from influences that too often are stronger than they are."

Tobacco manufacturers protested strongly.

Philip Morris U.S.A., for example, said "the rule opens a Pandora's box of regulation that tramples on the Constitution and the rights of millions of adult Americans. We will stand by those adults who choose to smoke."

The rules gave the industry two years before it must stop using its brand names to sponsor auto races and other events -- a ban that will erase the label on one of the premier trophies on the auto racing circuit, the Winston Cup.

As issued, the rules do not disturb state laws that ban smoking in restaurants, such as Maryland's 1995 law requiring public places to set aside separate smoking rooms if they wish to allow it at all. States also will be free to enact tougher limits than those spelled out in the new federal rules.

The plan dropped a ban on mail-order sales of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, since officials found that youths don't buy those products that way.

Insisting that no effort was being made to ban tobacco, the president and top administration aides said the campaign was "a preventive strategy" designed to protect those under age 18.

The Food and Drug Administration, noting that most smokers get into the habit when they are young, said the aim was to "inhibit the spread of smoking behavior from one generation to the next."

The FDA based its authority to issue the sweeping regulations on its conclusion that cigarettes and smokeless tobacco are drug-dispensing items, leading to addiction to nicotine.

Clinton, noting that a major part of the new campaign will be to strictly limit how tobacco companies promote their merchandise, remarked: "Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man will be out of our children's reach forever."

Those promotional images, under the FDA rules, will have to vanish from the nation's highway billboards, and from advertisements in stores frequented by youths. They will also be prohibited from magazines considered to have sizable youth audiences -- about 50 of the 100 magazines in which the industry advertises.

The president was introduced at the ceremony by Linda Crawford, of Chevy Chase, the widow of former Maryland tobacco lobbyist Vincent Crawford, a longtime smoker who died of cancer in March.

Spokesmen for the advertising industry protested that the new controls amounted to a promotional ban that would affect adults, too. They contended the rules were but the first step toward wider government limits on advertising any products that fall out of favor.

Hal Shoup, executive vice president of the American Association of Advertising Agencies, said: "If these proposed rules were allowed to stand, it is obvious that a dangerous precedent would be established for the advertising of countless other legal products."

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said in a statement that the new regulations were entirely unnecessary: "Today there are more than 225 federal government agencies and offices spending over $100 million to review, oversee or control the tobacco industry."

The Smokeless Tobacco Council, representing makers of chewing tobacco and snuff, said the FDA had been unable to get authority to do what it did from Congress, so it "railroaded" its plan through "the bureaucratic administrative process."

The industry and ad agencies are expected to intensify their pending legal challenges, filed in four lawsuits a year ago to head off the anti-tobacco rules before they were made final.

Carlos Sole III, a Washington lawyer representing the Freedom to Advertise Coalition, a group of seven ad organizations, said a federal judge in Greensboro, William L. Osteen Sr., who is overseeing the lawsuits will soon be asked to bar the final version from going into effect. A meeting with the judge to discuss how to proceed is likely soon, perhaps next week, Sole said.

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