President Clinton will take the lead in confronting a hostile tobacco industry and pushing tough anti-smoking legislation through Congress this year, administration officials say.
"The important thing is that the president will be there, he will be the leader that pulls the final piece of legislation together," Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."The drive to reduce teenage smoking would not be where it is today, White House adviser Rahm Emanuel said on CBS' "Face the Nation," if Clinton "didn't have the courage and take the political risk to take on one of the most powerful special interests" in the country.
That drive reached a crisis point last week when major tobacco companies condemned anti-smoking legislation in the Senate as vindictive and aimed at driving them out of business. They indicated they would spend millions to lobby against the measure.
The industry reached agreement with state attorneys general and health advocates last June on a $368 billion plan to curb teen smoking and fund anti-smoking programs. That was not tough enough for many in the administration and Congress, and Republican leaders have criticized Clinton for not taking a more direct role in crafting a legislative approach.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., whose Senate Commerce Committee recently approved a $516 billion plan by a 19-1 vote, said the administration had been helpful in putting together his bill.
But "the president needs to tell me and the Congress and the American people exactly what is and what isn't acceptable. And then we move forward from there," McCain said on CBS.
Clinton "has been a real partner. Now we need real leadership," Sen. Bill Frist, a member of the Commerce Committee, said on NBC.
Frist, R-Tenn., noted that one idea was to bring the tobacco companies back into the negotiations with a White House summit. Philip Morris senior vice president Steven Parrish told that if Clinton called a summit, "obviously you have to come, but . . . I wonder if it is not too late for that."
HHS Secretary Shalala said the president wants the industry to be part of the discussions, but "at this point we don't need a summit. What we do need is to keep up the progress."
Nicholas Brookes, chairman of Brown & Williamson Tobacco, told CNN's "Late Edition" that the McCain bill was unacceptable because it had turned the original aim of reducing teen smoking into a "money grab" that "would put us out of business."
Tobacco industry attorney J. Phil Carlton said on "Fox News Sunday" and ABC's "This Week" that driving up cigarette prices would result in black markets and drug dealers selling cigarettes to youngsters. He also suggested that the legislation would force American companies to move overseas some of the 2 million U.S. jobs linked to tobacco production and sales.
"It is inconceivable to me that a Republican Congress would pass a bill that calls for the kind of big taxes, big government and big brotherhood that this bill calls for," Carlton said.
Meanwhile, the head of the Federal Trade Commission says he would like to see similar legislation crafted to regulate the cigar industry, the Wall Street Journal reported in today's editions. FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky wants Congress to mandate health warnings on all cigar packages and to reduce advertising aimed at youth smokers. Pitofsky plans to prepare legislation, separate from McCain's tobacco bill before Congress now.