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Activists Worry That Tobacco Settlement Ceded Too Much

Activists Worry That Tobacco Settlement Ceded Too Much

WASHINGTON—The new tobacco settlement has left tobacco-control advocates fearing that the $206 billion dollar agreement may have blunted their efforts to reduce smoking and the death and disability it causes.

“The deal concedes far too much to Big Tobacco and provides far too little to protect public health,” said John R. Garrison, chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

Although setting some limits on the industry, the settlement is far narrower than either the ill-fated $368.5 billion agreement worked out by the tobacco industry and the attorneys general of 40 states in 1997 or the comprehensive tobacco bill that went down to defeat in the US Senate last June. As a result, it was viewed as a mixed blessing at best by smoking-control advocates.

By terminating lawsuits by a number of states, the settlement may have reduced the pressure on Congress, state legislatures, and local governments to enact tougher controls and higher taxes on tobacco products. Unlike the 1997 settlement agreement, this pact does not require any congressional action to implement it.

One immediate impact of the agreement, which runs to the year 2025, was a sharp rise in cigarette prices. Philip Morris hiked its wholesale price by 45 cents a pack, and others quickly followed. The increase was slightly more than market analysts had predicted the companies would need to pay the settlement costs.

However, the rise fell far short of the $1.50 a pack increase long sought by antitobacco forces as a key to curbing teen smoking. Antitax conservatives in Congress and in the states have objected on philosophical grounds to raising tobacco taxes, and the question now is whether the agreement killed any impetus for new tobacco levies.

“Tobacco use and tobacco-caused disease are continuing at epidemic proportions, and much remains to be done,” warned ENACT, a coalition of major health organizations. It called for a strong national effort “to reduce tobacco use throughout the country.”

Several health groups strongly criticized the failure of the agreement to require each state to devote a sizable amount of the money it receives to antitobacco programs. “The money from the tobacco companies should be seen as payments for past wrongs that must be invested to reduce future tobacco-related harms,” the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids said in a statement.

President Clinton called the agreement “an important step in the right direction.” But he also urged the incoming Congress to again make comprehensive national tobacco legislation one of its top priorities.

The President also announced that the US Solicitor General would seek Supreme Court review of a US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision that the Food and Drug Administration does not have the power to regulate tobacco advertising. “Comprehensive national tobacco legislation must include many things, but especially it must clarify the jurisdiction of the FDA,” Mr. Clinton said.

The new settlement does not address the FDA’s power to regulate tobacco issues. It was negotiated by eight state attorneys general, led by Christine Gregoire of Washington, with the nation’s four largest tobacco companies— Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., and Lorillard, Inc. A separate, $100 million agreement was reached with US Tobacco, the nation’s largest producer of smokeless tobacco.

Forty-six states, the District of Columbia, and four US territories ultimately signed on to the agreement. Four states—Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Minnesota—had previously reached individual settlements with the tobacco industry.

The national settlement provides that the terms of agreement are subject to enforcement by the courts, and given its complexity and the dollars involved, court battles seem inevitable. Among its many provisions, the agreement will:

  • Establish an industry-funded $1.45 billion foundation to carry out a sustained, nationwide advertising and education program aimed at informing consumers about tobacco-related diseases.

  • Ban the use of cartoon characters, such as Joe Camel, in advertising, promoting, or packaging tobacco products, and, beginning, July 1, 1999, ban the distribution and sale of apparel and merchandise bearing tobacco names and logos. However, human models such as the Marlboro Man are not excluded.

  • Prohibit aiming tobacco advertising, promotion, or marketing at young people and any efforts to initiate, maintain, or increase youth smoking.

  • Require the tobacco companies to set up a user-friendly website that includes all documents produced in state and other smoking and health-related lawsuits. The industry must maintain this site at its expense for 10 years.

  • Ban outdoor advertising—including billboards, signs, and placards in arenas, stadiums, shopping malls, and video game arcades—and transit advertising of tobacco products, as well as limit advertising outside of retail establishments to 14 square feet.

  • Forbid payments to promote tobacco products in movies, television shows, and other forms of entertainment; ban the sponsorship of team sports or events with significant youth audiences; and prohibit the use of tobacco brand names for stadiums and arenas.

  • Disband the industry-supported Council for Tobacco Research, Tobacco Institute, and Council for Indoor Air Research, and require the preservation of all their records related to any lawsuits.

 
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