Sometimes, seeing through the smoke takes considerable effort.
While President Clinton and lawmakers stress the need to come down hard on tobacco companies, reports indicate the industry donated a record $4.5 million to lawmakers during a non-election year and spent more than $58 million on lobbying during the past two years. That kind of arrangement needs to stop.Two issues need to be resolved quickly: how to deal with the current lawsuits against the tobacco companies and drafting anti-tobacco legislation that protects youth.
While a number of states have sued the tobacco industry and three - Texas, Mississippi and Florida - have negotiated their own settlements, the states-initiated national settlement is still the best option.
That's because state settlements don't provide broad public-health protections the way nationwide agreements do. The widespread $368 billion settlement announced last June would go beyond state lawsuits in restricting the tobacco industry's right to market its insidious products and would clarify the Food and Drug Administration's authority over cigarettes. Primarily for that reason, many public-health organizations back a national deal.
And as Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch points out, striking a deal with the tobacco industry merely settles the suits now pending. It doesn't prevent future personal injury claims against tobacco companies. Hatch is urging his fellow lawmakers to seriously look at the national agreement as it not only pays out $368 billion over 25 years but limits ads targeting youths and allows stronger warnings and government regulation.
Continued wrangling may prevent an agreement, thereby negating on a national scale any incentive the tobacco manufacturers have for curbing their advertising or targeting youth.
Because the national settlement is in doubt, Utah Attorney General Jan Graham needs to continue pursuing an individual state lawsuit as a backup.
Ideally, a national settlement would come before anti-tobacco legislation is proposed. Still, Congress needs to heed Clinton's push for legislation that punishes cigarette companies for targeting and hooking children. That's because, as Clinton states, 3,000 children light their first cigarette each day and 1,000 of them will die prematurely of smoking-related causes.
Republicans are urging Clinton to provide a specific plan for action, while the Clinton administration wants Congress to draft its own tobacco legislation.
For a settlement or legislation to be held up due to pettiness is counterproductive. A window of opportunity exists to deal with a very serious problem. Clinton and Congress need to work together to see that it doesn't close prematurely.