WASHINGTON--National tobacco legislation may be decidedly down, but
it is not definitely dead. Following the two votes in the Senate that
defeated the comprehensive tobacco bill sponsored by Sen. John
McCain(R-Ariz), Republicans and Democrats alike vowed to continue
efforts to pass some form of legislation. But politicians throughout
Congress are in such discord on details that many doubt any tobacco
legislation will clear Congress and win the Presidents
signature in 1998.
Indeed, the tobacco legislation appears more likely to become an
issue in the November elections than to become law. Supporters of the
McCain bill accused the industry of buying votes. The defeat resulted
from "the millions in campaign contributions to those senators
who killed the bill," said Matthew L. Myers, executive vice
president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
American Cancer Society Statement
In a statement on the defeat of the McCain bill, the American Cancer
"As the debate on the McCain bill disintegrated, those who were
"The American Cancer Society and the public health community
Although the Senate voting did not strictly follow party lines, the
majority of Republicans voted against the McCain measure and
Democrats for it.
After the vote, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga) said Republicans
there would work to pass a less costly bill that would focus more on
curtailing teenage smoking and drug abuse and less on imposing high
taxes on cigarettes. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) also
pledged to try to enact a less costly bill and predicted nothing as
comprehensive as the McCain bill would pass the Senate.
This led White House spokesman Michael McCurry to remark: "There
is no such thing as a slimmed-down bill that protects kids from tobaccosmoking."
Democrats threatened to try to attach the McCain provisions as
amendments to other bills in an effort to force passage, but their
first try won only 44 votes and was defeated.
As drafted by Sen. McCain, the bill sought to raise at least $516
billion over the next 25 years from the tobacco industry, in large
part by a $1.10 a pack increase in cigarette prices over 5 years. It
would also have expanded the Food and Drug Administrations
regulatory powers over tobacco and imposed heavy fines on tobacco
companies that did not reduce the percentage of teenagers who use
The Senate debate on the bill consumed about 80 hours over a
months time, during which senators added amendments that would
have reduced taxes for some married couples and self-employed
persons, limited the fees of attorneys suing tobacco companies, and
added money to antidrug efforts.
During the debate, the tobacco industry waged a $40 million national
advertising campaign that attacked the legislation as an unfair tax
and an attempt to increase government regulations and programs. The
advertising blitz generated a flow of communications to Capitol Hill
opposing the bill, and tobacco farmers let their home state
legislatures know of their personal financial concerns.
The tobacco industrys effort overwhelmed an ad campaign by a
group of public health organizations, including the American Cancer
Society, to explain the important health implications of the measure.
60 Votes Required
The McCain bill lost even though it appears to enjoy majority support
in the Senate because it was debated under a Senate rule that
requires 60 votes to bring a bill to the floor for a vote.
The bill fell on two procedural votes. In the first, senators voted
57 to 42--three short of the needed 60 votes--to limit debate and
bring the measure to a vote. Only two Democrats voted no, and 14
Republicans voted yes. In the second, the vote was 53 to 46 to allow
the bill to remain on the floor for further consideration.