Governor criticizes tobacco accord He calls on Congress for more protection of public health

September 06, 1997|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening sharply criticized the proposed national settlement with the tobacco industry yesterday, calling on Congress to strengthen provisions to protect public health and ensure the Food and Drug Administration's power to regulate nicotine.

But Glendening, speaking with Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. outside Julius West Middle School in Rockville, said an improved national settlement would be preferable to state-by-state measures to reduce smoking, such as an increase in Maryland's tobacco tax.

"The true test of this agreement is how much it does to protect our children from the addiction, disease and death tobacco brings," Glendening said. "No amount of money can settle this case."

The governor said Maryland "will not accept" the settlement as currently written, though experts say that if a tobacco settlement is approved by Congress, states opposed to it may have no alternative other than fighting the deal in court.

Curran also criticized the tentative pact. Since the terms were announced in June, he has emerged as one of the strongest critics of the settlement among the attorneys general who have sued the cigarette companies.

The proposed settlement, pending before the White House and Congress, would resolve lawsuits filed in 40 states to recover billions of dollars in Medicaid money spent to treat smoking-related illnesses.

As written, the agreement would require the tobacco industry to pay $368.5 billion over 25 years, curtail advertising and reduce youth smoking by set percentages or pay penalties. But it would also limit FDA's power to control nicotine and ban class-action suits and punitive damages against the cigarette industry.

Anti-tobacco advocates have attacked the pact, saying the industry would gain critical legal protection while settlement costs would merely be passed on to smokers as a price increase. More than 60 public health groups delivered a letter to President Clinton Thursday to reject the proposed settlement.

Dr. Joseph A. Adams, a Towson physician and president of the Smoke Free Maryland Coalition, which signed the letter, praised Glendening's stand. "We were glad he expressed grave doubts about the settlement," he said.

But Adams said he fears Maryland's skeptical position may not prevail in Washington. "If this deal gets into Congress, the states will simply be bypassed," he said.

Pub Date: 9/06/97

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