Opening the door to unprecedented steps to combat teen smoking, President Clinton went to the heart of tobacco country Wednesday to make his case for strong government regulation. People have to change, he said, “and somebody has to help them.”
Clinton offered no specifics, but a senior administration official said the president would announce plans today to give the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate nicotine as an addictive drug as it relates to young people.
Proposed FDA rules to be published in today’s Federal Register would put new limits on vending machine sales, require proof of age for cigarette purchases, ban brandname advertising at sporting events and put new restrictions on advertising in teen magazines and outdoors, a second official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Aides said Clinton still held out some hope that the tobacco industry, faced with the threat of new regulations, would agree to an acceptable compromise during a 90-day public comment period, perhaps avoiding actual imposition of the rules.
FDA intervention would represent a sharp setback for tobacco interests, which have tried to sidetrack regulations in favor of a voluntary campaign against smoking by teenagers.
Philip Morris, the world’s largest tobacco company, said Wednesday night it was willing to discuss alternatives with the White House, but that it would fight FDA regulation as an illegal move.
Clinton, who chomps on a cigar from time to time but rarely lights one, arrived in North Carolina to a warning from Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt that “we don’t need big government trying to run our lives.
“We just need to do it in a voluntary way that works, instead of overregulating from Washington,” Hunt said.
Likewise, Republican Rep. Howard Coble of North Carolina warned that Congress would immediately try to sidetrack FDA involvement. He predicted Clinton’s move would hurt his standing in the South.
Sales to minors already are banned in every state, but the laws aren’t enforced for lack of money - and officials said the FDA plan did not include enforcement funds.
An administration official said the FDA’s proposed rules would:
Forbid outdoor cigarette ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.
Limit ads in teen magazines to black and white texts, with no pictures.
Ban cigarette machines from places frequented by teens.
Require proof of age to buy cigarettes.
Ban brand-name cigarette advertising at sporting events.
The latter would be particularly controversial in the South, where tobacco contributes significantly to NASCAR auto racing.
Clinton’s decision is fraught with political consequences: He can ill afford to alienate Southerners heading into the 1996 elections, and the tobacco industry is known to bring powerful pressure to bear.
But anti-smoking groups stress that surveys show most Americans - even those in tobacco states - believe the government should play a bigger role in regulating tobacco use.