Clinton Unveils Sweeping Tobacco Curbs: Cigarette Firms Challenge FDA in Court

Article excerpt

President Clinton yesterday declared nicotine a drug and imposed strict limits on tobacco advertising to curb teen-age smoking.

Cigarette makers reacted immediately with legal action that could delay or even thwart the effort.

Mr. Clinton, surrounded by children, unveiled the tobacco regulations in a Rose Garden ceremony that capped a marathon week of bill signings.

The new rules aim to cut the number of teen smokers by half over the next seven years.

"With this historic action we are taking today, Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man will be out of our children's reach forever," Mr. Clinton told an audience that included former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. "The cigarette companies still have a right to market their products to adults, but today we are drawing the line on children, fulfilling our obligation as adults to protect them from influences that too often are stronger than they are."

The White House action is significant beyond its immediate aim of controlling cigarette sales and advertising because, for the first time in history, it puts oversight of tobacco ads under the Food and Drug Administration.

The regulations are scheduled to take effect over the next six to 12 months. But tobacco companies have made clear they will fight them in court, claiming only Congress can give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco.

As the new rules go into effect, the FDA will begin enforcing tobacco advertising laws the same way it does the marketing of prescription drugs. Tobacco makers that violate the rules will be subject to warnings, civil penalties and possible seizure of their products.

Just hours after the president's speech, the tobacco and advertising industries filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Greensboro, N.C., arguing that the FDA has no jurisdiction over tobacco. The filing is the latest action in a lawsuit the industries filed last year when the FDA first proposed the rules.

The court set a meeting on the case for Monday.

Anti-smoking advocates were confident the measure would go into effect as written despite the legal challenge from manufacturers and advertisers.

"They've already lost in the court of public opinion," said William Novelli, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

FDA rules ban cigarette sales to minors, something already prohibited in all 50 states. They restrict billboard, magazine and other types of advertising and prohibit cigarette-brand sponsorship of ballgames and concerts.

The administration dropped a plan to require tobacco sellers to spend $150 million a year on anti-smoking campaigns. It also loosened sponsorship restrictions to allow corporate manufacturers of cigarettes to sponsor sporting events. That means R.J. Reynolds may sponsor a NASCAR race but Winston may not.

By declaring tobacco a drug and putting it under the auspices of the FDA, the administration must eventually confront the broader question of whether that could lead to further drug-style regulation such as child-proof cigarette packaging or even a ban. …