Trying to rekindle the embers of tobacco reform that is now lies in ashes, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and allies formally unveiled a new alternative on Tuesday.
Hatch and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in floor speeches outlined a joint proposal to dramatically lower the costs of reform for cigarette companies compared with a bill by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which the Senate shelved last week.Hatch's proposal would cost the cigarette companies $428.5 billion over 25 years, compared with the $516 billion price tag of McCain's bill.
Hatch estimates his bill would also increase the cost of cigarettes by $1.50 a pack and said McCain's would have raised them by $3.61 a pack when all state and local taxes were added.
Hatch's bill is still $60 billion more than the deal worked out between tobacco companies and states' attorneys general to settle state lawsuits in exchange for huge payments and voluntary curbs on advertising aimed at youths.
But Hatch told the Senate that tobacco companies could support his bill - and he said their voluntary support for ad bans and payments if goals for reducing youth smoking are not met is needed to ensure any such legislation is constitutional.
His bill offers some liability limitation for tobacco. It would ban class action lawsuits against the tobacco industry and cap the damages companies could be forced to pay at $5.5 billion a year and $1 million a year per plaintiff.
Most of the money from tobacco companies in Hatch's bill would go to medical research and campaigns against youth smoking. It drops tax cuts, child care and drug provisions that had been attached to McCain's bill.
"We do not intend to remain on the sidelines while this issue languishes like a wounded animal," Hatch said.
He warned the Senate that doing nothing on tobacco this election year could be political suicide. If such a bill doesn't pass, he said, "It will look like we're twiddling our thumbs around here and doing nothing."
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats have vowed to reoffer McCain's rejected bill as an amendment to virtually every bill that comes to the Senate floor - and President Clinton has been urging the Senate to reconsider McCain's version.
House leaders are expected to unveil later this week their own proposal for tobacco reform.