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President Seeks to Settle Federal Tobacco Lawsuit

President Seeks to Settle Federal Tobacco Lawsuit

WASHINGTON—The tobacco wars continue in the nation’s capital. The Bush Administration has announced it will seek a settlement of the federal lawsuit against the tobacco industry, initiated during the Clinton Administration to recover profits the industry made through alleged fraudulent practices.

A bill introduced by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va) has drawn flack from both sides. The measure, the National Youth Smoking Reduction Act, would give the Food and Drug Administration some authority to regulate tobacco for the first time. But several companies have complained that the bill is tailored to give an advantage to one of their own, Phillip Morris, and health groups contend that it actually does little to protect children.

Last year, federal district Judge Gladys Kessler dismissed two counts of the federal lawsuit, in which the Justice Department sought to recover money it had paid out to cover medical care for smoking-related illnesses.

However, she allowed the part of the suit filed under federal racketeering charges to proceed. In it, the government seeks to recover company profits earned by the tobacco companies through false claims about their products. A trial is currently set to begin on July 15, 2003.

Some members of Congress, including former Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo), have sought to deny the Justice Department adequate funds to pursue the case. It was Mr. Ashcroft, now US Attorney General, who announced that his department would seek to reach a settlement agreement rather than go to trial.

Rep. Davis’ bill drew strong opposition from four prominent health advocacy groups—the American Cancer Society, Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association. In a "Dear Representative" letter sent to every member of the House, they provided a list of objections to the measure:

  • Although the bill would enable the FDA to regulate marketing and advertising by the industry, it would make it extremely difficult for the agency to do so. "The FDA, in order to restrict a specific type of advertising, would have to prove in court a direct link between the advertising and the use of tobacco products by children 17 years and younger," the letter said.

  • The Davis bill fails to give the FDA flexibility to prohibit advertising that results in misleading the public about the relative safety of tobacco products.

  • The FDA should have the power to set performance standards and require the tobacco industry to modify tobacco products to protect the public health, as the agency does with other products that it regulates.

  • Congress should give the FDA authority to approve new tobacco products or withdraw approval based on public health considerations. The letter noted that Rep. Davis’ proposed law would limit FDA requirements to ensuring that new products, in the words of the bill itself, "pose no greater risk to the public health than currently marketed tobacco products."

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