WASHINGTON - Smoking foes, led by Sen. Mike DeWine (R., Ohio) yesterday vowed to continue their fight for government regulation of tobacco products, shortly after a House-Senate conference committee rejected their efforts to include a tobacco regulation provision in the final version of a corporate tax rewrite bill.
Calling it "a sad day in the U.S. Congress," Mr. DeWine said it was "outrageous" for the conference committee to reject a provision permitting the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the sale and manufacture of tobacco products.
Supporters of FDA regulation say it is vital to help combat smoking by youngsters and insist such a measure could save hundreds of young lives. Opponents, however, contend it is unnecessary and too sweeping, putting the FDA in the business of regulating tobacco farming.
"Kids were treated very poorly today in the conference committee," Senator DeWine told a news conference. "The conference report says it's OK for cigarette companies to target children."
Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) said the demise of the FDA provision was a result of intense lobbying by tobacco companies that oppose government regulation. The victory for tobacco companies, Mr. Durbin said, "shows they are still tough and kicking and they are kicking our kids."
Mr. Durbin and other smoking foes pledged to do what they could to at least slow the momentum of the corporate tax bill, which includes $130 billion in new tax breaks for American businesses. Their efforts could be helped by Congress' rush to recess by the end of the week so lawmakers can campaign for the Nov. 2 elections.
"We are going to take our time," Mr. Durbin said. "We are going to make certain that every procedural requirement for this bill is met."
In July, the Senate voted to include the provision - linked to a $12 billion buyout of financially strapped tobacco farmers - in the corporate tax bill. Under the Senate provision, the FDA would have authority to restrict children's exposure to tobacco product advertising, limit vending machine sales of cigarettes, and beef up enforcement of laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to those under the age of 18.
Supporters of government tobacco regulation had hoped they could ensure the success of their effort by balancing it with the buyout so keenly desired by lawmakers from tobacco-growing states. The buyout would be financed by cigarette makers.
But the House version of the corporate tax bill included a smaller, $10 billion buyout of tobacco farmers and did not have a provision for FDA regulation of tobacco.
"Not only did they [the conference committee] remove the FDA provision, they made it just a sweetheart deal for all tobacco growers," said Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.). "This bill is disgraceful. What they've done is remove the linchpin in a complete sellout to tobacco companies."
David Howard, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said his company "was glad to see a buyout for tobacco farmers. As we said all along, we're also glad that it doesn't include FDA regulation."
Mr. Howard also took issue with lawmakers who say tobacco companies are attempting to market their product to children.
"We do not market our product to children. We are a responsible marketer of a legal product to adult smokers," he said.
At the news conference, Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa) noted that tobacco companies as well as health groups had "signed off'' on the Senate provision permitting FDA regulation of tobacco products.
"They broke their word, and now they're laughing all the way to the bank," Senator Harkin contended. "If this goes through, I don't know how or when we'll ever get FDA regulation."
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