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Clinton to Sign Order for FDA Regulation of Tobacco

By John Schwartz and John F. Harris
The Washington Post

President Clinton is scheduled on Friday to sign an executive order putting into effect his administration's long-awaited proposal to regulate tobacco products to curb underage smoking, the White House said Wednesday.

The action, which would give broad new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco sales and advertising to minors, could be delayed because the Office of Management and Budget is still analyzing the final proposal, presidential spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters. He said no announcement could occur before that process was completed.

Administration officials said the FDA's final recommendation closely resembles the proposal Clinton unveiled a year ago. McCurry said the final proposal does differ modestly from the original regulatory plan. Last August, Clinton urged regulations that would limit tobacco ads, ban vending machine sales and require tobacco companies to pay for an education campaign against underage smoking.

McCurry said Clinton strongly favors some form of tobacco regulation to prevent another generation of addicted smokers. "His intent all along has been to promulgate a rule that would accomplish the health policy objectives he outlined," McCurry said.

In Clinton's new book, "Between Hope and History," the president writes, "The tobacco industry has no right to peddle cigarettes to children or encourage them directly or indirectly to smoke. It is immoral."

By signing the executive order, Clinton will officially accept the FDA regulations, which would begin to put the proposals into effect.

Response from the tobacco industry and its allies was swift. "The president is in effect declaring war on 76,000 North Carolinians who gain their livelihood in one form or another from tobacco," said Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C.

"Their proposals are ineffective and illegal," said Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute. "Ineffective, in that what FDA proposed to reduce youth smoking won't work. Illegal in that this is an agency that does not have jurisdiction over the product."

When the administration first considered taking on the politically powerful tobacco industry, many saw it as an election risk, especially in tobacco-growing states.

But the proposals have proved popular, and administration strategists believe they amplify one of the president's main campaign messages: that Clinton is willing to use the powers of the Executive Branch to protect children. That could set up a contrast with GOP candidate Bob Dole, who last month drew a torrent of negative publicity when he questioned whether nicotine is addictive. Repeated polls have shown smokers and nonsmokers alike approve of some government plans to restrict youth access to tobacco.

The original plan contained a variety of measures to reduce youth access to tobacco products, including restrictions on tobacco ads in publications with a significant proportion of young readers, and bans on billboard advertising near schools and playgrounds. The plan called for a ban on brand-name sponsorship of sporting events and logos on T-shirts, caps and other goods.

The original proposal would also restrict ways cigarettes are sold, requiring proof of age for all youthful buyers, and eliminating all but face-to-face sales. It called for a $150 million, industry funded program to warn young people about the health risks of tobacco.

McCurry stressed Wednesday that all of the regulatory proposals are aimed at reducing underage smoking, and said "for adult users" the regulatory package would have "no practical effect."

When the FDA proposal was first announced just over a year ago, major tobacco companies sued in federal court in North Carolina to block the plan.

Since then the industry has announced additional voluntary programs to curb youth access to tobacco products, and earlier this year Philip Morris and U.S. Tobacco unveiled proposed legislation that resembled the FDA plan in some respects but was considerably looser in its particulars.

A senior administration official said none of the proposals brought forward from Congress or from the industry would have fulfilled the administration's goals.