Federal Court Case in N.C. Pits FDA against Joe Camel
Ron Scherer, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Joe Camel gets his day in court today.
In Greensboro, N.C., lawyers for the tobacco industry and the Department of Justice will square off in a federal district court over whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the jurisdiction to clamp down on the cartoon camel and the industry's other marketing and advertising campaigns. Lawyers will also argue over whether the government can infringe on the constitutional rights of the companies to advertise a legal product.
The battle has major ramifications for how the tobacco industry can spend its $5 billion marketing budget. In an effort to curb smoking among teenagers, the FDA has proposed banning advertising near schools, restricting most other advertising to black-and-white text, and prohibiting the sponsorship of sporting or entertainment events. The FDA would also prohibit the sale of loose cigarettes, limit vending-machine sales, and ban free samples. The new rules would go into effect Aug. 28. If the government loses its case, the battleground is likely to shift to Congress. "If the courts decide against the FDA, I will do all I can to pursue legislation that explicitly gives the FDA jurisdiction to regulate and mandates specific measures aimed at reducing the number of children who smoke," says California Rep. Henry Waxman (D), ranking minority member on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee. Getting new legislation through Congress would be a challenge, however. "The tobacco industry has always used its political and economic power through Congress to stifle meaningful control," says Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. The industry has asked for an expedited decision in the Greensboro case, so the judge's ruling could come as soon as next month. Both sides have filed more than 600 pages of legal briefs - all available on the Justice Department's World Wide Web home page (www. usdoj.gov/civil/cases/tobacco.htm). No matter the outcome, the losing side is expected to appeal the decision to the Circuit Court in Richmond, Va. …