President Clinton is poised to declare that the Food and Drug Administration will regulate tobacco as an addictive drug, a move that could clear the way for broad government controls over the manufacture, marketing and distribution of cigarettes, White House officials said Wednesday.
The president’s announcement could come as early as Friday, said White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry. He said the timing of the president’s decision hinges on when the Office of Management and Budget finishes its review of the controversial FDA proposal.
Announcement of the long-awaited restrictions, which polls show are popular with voters, would give Clinton a boost going into next week’s Democratic convention in Chicago and mark a watershed in the history of America’s love-hate relationship with tobacco.
By taking jurisdiction over tobacco, the FDA would insert itself between consumers and cigarettes, a product that claims the lives of 400,000 Americans each year - more than die from AIDS, car accidents, alcohol, murders and suicides combined.
But precise details of the package remain a tightly guarded secret. Neither the FDA nor the White House would discuss the final proposal Wednesday.
Clinton and FDA Commissioner David Kessler, the chief administration proponent of the tobacco restriction, first announced their intention to regulate tobacco on Aug. 11, 1995. In the 12 months since, the agency has accepted public comment on its proposal and has worked furiously - and secretively - to draft a final version of the plan.
The plan was sent to the Office of Management and Budget last Tuesday; the agency has 90 days to review it. Once OMB signs off, Clinton will be free to announce the final rules.
The announcement will come at a time when the tobacco industry is under fire on a variety of fronts. The industry is facing lawsuits by 11 states that want to force tobacco companies to pay the Medicaid bills of smokers with lung cancer and other diseases.
When word of the FDA rules hit Wall Street Wednesday, the stocks took a sharp tumble. On Wall Street, Phillip Morris, one of the nation’s most widely held stocks, fell 3-7/8 to close at 87-5/8 in heavy trading. RJR Nabisco Holdings Corp. stock declined 1-3/8 to 25-1/4.
The rules, however, will not be enacted without a battle. The tobacco industry is expected to file an immediate lawsuit to stop the plan.
xxxx WHAT TO EXPECT Administration officials said the FDA plan being evaluated resembles a proposal Clinton put forward more than a year ago, which included: Requiring buyers of cigarettes and chewing tobacco to prove they are at least 18 years old. A ban on sales of cigarettes in packs of fewer than 20. Outlawing brand-name tobacco advertising at sporting events and on items unrelated to tobacco like T-shirts. Barring all tobacco advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. Banning sales of cigarettes in vending machines. Restricting cigarette advertising in youth magazines to black and white text without photographs and drawings.