On Monday, the tobacco industry's best lawyers will go head-to-head with the government in court in an attempt to kill the Food and Drug Administration's crackdown on teen-age smoking.
The legal arguments will be technical, even dull - unlike the three dramatic years leading up to this confrontation, when government detectives uncovered super-nicotine tobacco fields, whistle-blowers who alleged cigarette makers manipulate addictive nicotine and secret industry proposals to market cigarettes to teen-agers.
"This was not a (John) Grisham novel," said FDA Commissioner David Kessler. But his investigation at times did mimic a thriller, even using code names to protect informers' identities. "It was the most major investigation in this agency's history," Kessler added. "As a country, we've not taken tobacco sales to adolescents seriously." The immediate question for tobacco foes and friends alike is whether Americans remember the years of damning tobacco headlines, or will be lulled by Monday's legal arguments in a Greensboro, N.C., courtroom. "This is a legal argument, not a factual argument," said R.J. Reynolds attorney Charles Blixt. "These FDA regulations . . . would go to the heart of our business, would dramatically change the way the tobacco industry works." The industry denies that it controls addictive nicotine levels in tobacco or that its advertising encourages teens to use tobacco. But lawyers won't argue those underlying issues Monday. They'll merely debate whether the FDA overstepped its authority and the First Amendment. …