Supporters of the proposed settlement between the tobacco industry and 40 states urged lawmakers on Saturday to push for approval of the multibillion-dollar deal, saying the lives of children depend on quick action.
Others, however, advised a slower approach, pressing for a tougher deal with cigarette makers.
Among those urging quick ratification at the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures was Dr. Lonnie Bristow, a California physician who took part in the talks that led to the settlement proposal.
“Let’s work out what can be worked out,” said Bristow. “But let’s not lose sight of what’s really important.”
The proposed deal does not provide a “limitless opportunity” for smoking opponents, said Bristow, a former president of the American Medical Association.
Jeffrey Barg, an anti-smoking activist from Philadelphia, said the settlement gives away too much to the “devilishly clever” tobacco industry. He said the proposal’s ban on class-action lawsuits should not be accepted and that state and local governments should be allowed to pass their own anti-smoking rules.
“The proposal is too good for the tobacco industry,” Barg said. “What’s good for the tobacco industry is bad for public health. What’s good for public health is bad for the tobacco industry.”
Barg supports further negotiations and suggested states follow the recommendations of a panel of health experts who rejected the proposed settlement as too lenient. That panel asked in June for tighter government controls and higher penalties if the industry fails to cut youth smoking.
‘I don’t think this is the best time to settle. It may be the best time for the tobacco industry to settle,” Barg said at the four-day conference, which concluded Saturday.
No representative of the tobacco industry took part in Saturday’s discussion. Officials of the conference and of the industry said cigarette makers were invited to participate.
Bristow said delaying approval of the deal would mean more deaths from smoking. He said the lives of as many as 1 million children could be saved over the next decade if the agreement is approved soon.
The proposed settlement calls for payments of $368 billion to reimburse states for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses, to help states enforce tobacco regulations and to prevent smoking by children.
State lawmakers’ role in the issue is limited. The settlement, agreed to by state attorneys general and the industry, would be subject to legislative action by Congress and subsequent consideration by the White House.
Serious concerns about the deal have been expressed already by members of Congress, President Clinton, some attorneys general and by public health advocates. The leading concern is restrictions the deal would place on the federal Food and Drug Administration’s ability to regulate nicotine.