Senate Boosts Funding to Fight Teen Smoking
Goldreich, Samuel, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Tobacco manufacturers tried to save their proposed 25-year, $368.5 billion liability settlement from collapse yesterday even as the Senate dealt them a major blow by approving $34 million to crack down on underage smoking.
"This is the first victory against big tobacco on the Senate floor in over 10 years," said Sen. Tom Harkin, Iowa Democrat, who sponsored an amendment to spend the money to fight tobacco sales to minors. "It will help keep millions of children from falling into the trap of tobacco addiction and eventually falling prey to tobacco-related disease and death."
Architects of the tobacco settlement warned that the nationwide agreement could unravel if Congress and the White House demand more money from cigarette manufacturers should they fail to meet goals to curb teen smoking.
But the arrangement also could be jeopardized by the acknowledgment by one of the deal's chief authors that the settlement probably would fail to meet those targets, which were demanded by public health groups.
The nation's five top tobacco companies expect to pay as much as $2 billion a year in extra penalties because they do not believe they can control teen smoking, said Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, the lead negotiator in the tobacco talks for 40 states that sued the industry to recover health care costs.
"They really don't think, I believe, that they can do much more to reduce teen-age smoking," he said during a hearing before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. "They think it's the parents of America, they think it's the retailers of America, they think it's been the vending machines, and they think it's been our 100-year history of smoking that causes teen-agers to continue to smoke."
That admission means there is no public health reason to support the deal, said John Garrison, the chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. The "global" deal should not reward the industry with immunity from class-action lawsuits and punitive damages, he said.
"Its only global aspect is tranquillity for the tobacco industry in the United States so it can concentrate on markets abroad," Mr. Garrison said.
Labor committee Chairman James M. Jeffords, Vermont Republican, said there is no way for Congress to act on the deal before the year ends because at least four committees must act on it in the Senate alone. The Judiciary, Finance, and Commerce, Science and Transportation panels intend to conduct separate hearings, he said.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said Congress might be able to pass tobacco legislation this year, depending on the House, which has scheduled no hearings.
"If the House doesn't indicate they want to try to do it this year, we're not going to go out into that thicket if they're not," he said. …