January 9, 1998 in Nation/World

Academy: Add $2 Per Pack For Cigarettes Group Wants To Put Smokes Out Of A Price Range For Teenagers; Proposal Goes Far Beyond Earlier Plans For Tobacco Control

Charles Pope Knight-Ridder

The National Academy of Sciences urged Thursday that the price of cigarettes be boosted by at least $2 a pack, calling it “the single most effective way” to keep children from smoking.

The report, which goes significantly beyond earlier tobacco-control proposals, could buttress support for tough new action against tobacco as Congress prepares to debate what to do about smoking.

The recommendation came in a report by the Academy’s National Cancer Policy Board. The board said particular attention needs to be paid to suppressing smoking among teenagers and tempering demand for tobacco overseas.

Raising an idea the tobacco companies are sure to fight, the board also urged stiffer penalties against individual manufacturers whose products remain popular with kids.

“Although public debate has intensified, tobacco use among youths has escalated,” said the report. “Smoking rates among youths have increased for four years in succession.

“Today’s tobacco users will become tomorrow’s health statistics,” the authors added. About 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses.

The academy board included 22 physicians, academics and researchers from across the nation.

The latest study comes on the heels of several events that tobacco opponents believe could help tip the fight in their favor. On Wednesday, the Justice Department announced that a California biotechnology company pleaded guilty to conspiring with a Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. to breed plants with twice the dose of nicotine.

In December, the House Commerce Committee released more than 800 tobacco industry documents that had previously been secret. The papers showed that tobacco companies went to considerable lengths to protect their product and keep Washington at bay.

Few of the ideas contained in the report are entirely new.

In addition to tax hikes, the board calls for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to more aggressively regulate nicotine and thus cigarettes. It said Congress should pass legislation to both “strengthen and clarify” the FDA’s role.

The report also calls for tough restrictions on advertising to keep children from beginning to smoke. And it urged the United States spend up to $150 million to help create, support and promote tobacco control programs in other countries.

Each of those ideas will face problems in Congress, where there is growing skepticism about whether a deal to control tobacco can be reached. “I don’t know that there will be a tobacco settlement this year,” North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan said Thursday. “I think it’s problematic.”’ President Clinton has endorsed a $1.50-per-pack increase in the price of cigarettes but even the tobacco industry’s biggest opponents have not called for a $2 increase.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton and his aides agree with the board that raising the price of cigarettes is critical to reducing smoking.

But he said economists differ on how much the rate will drop for a particular price rise. “We probably agree on the concept but there seems to be some disparity on the numbers,” he said.

Aside from the tax increase, the academy’s most controversial recommendation is to penalize companies at different rates.

“Incentives to reduce youth tobacco use will be most powerful if penalties for failure to achieve goals fall hardest on those firms making brands attractive to underage users,” the report said. “If youth tobacco goals are not met, financial penalties should be targeted to manufacturers, based on brands used disproportionately by youths.”

Steve Duchesne, a spokesman for the tobacco companies - Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and the Liggett Group, said he could not comment directly on the study because he had not seen it. But he defended a proposed $368.5 billion national tobacco settlement the companies have tentatively agreed to as the best device for attacking youth smoking.

The agreement, he said, “is the most comprehensive attempt at addressing the underage tobacco issue and resolving the issue. It includes clear FDA authority to regulate tobacco and nicotine, it includes dramatic advertising and marketing restrictions.”

The agreement also includes a “pass through” provision, which means tobacco companies will offset the cost of the settlement by raising prices.

Get stories like this in a free daily email

Please keep it civil. Don't post comments that are obscene, defamatory, threatening, off-topic, an infringement of copyright or an invasion of privacy. Read our forum standards and community guidelines.

You must be logged in to post comments. Please log in here or click the comment box below for options.

comments powered by Disqus