US president announces own tobacco deal

BMJ 1997; 315 doi: (Published 27 September 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;315:763
  1. Terri Rutter
  1. Boston

    The United States president, Bill Clinton, has announced his own plan for reducing the consumption of cigarettes, thereby rejecting the settlement that had been written by state attorneys general, industry representatives, and some public health advocates (28 June, p 1849).

    Declaring that the “health of our people and especially the health of our children must be paramount in our thinking,” President Clinton emphasised that the primary goal was to require the tobacco industry to reduce significantly the number of young people who smoke. He has proposed raising the price of a packet of cigarettes by $1.50 (£1) over the next 10 years, the national average price is currently $2.00.

    The Department of Health and Human Services has released statistics stating that smoking among teenagers drops by 7% for every 10% increase in price. Furthermore, the industry must achieve this price increase through penalties and payments, said the president. He called on the House of Representatives to follow the Senate's lead in repealing a $50bn tax credit that the industry had acquired to offset the cost of the initial settlement's penalty fees. The president asked the industry to make a voluntary commitment to stop advertising to children.

    President Clinton's plan calls for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have full regulating authority over tobacco products. Congress is asked to pass legislation calling for full disclosure of the tobacco industry's knowledge of the health effects of its products, especially on children.

    Last year the FDA declared that nicotine was an addictive drug and that the cigarette was a drug delivery device, and in February a federal court in North Carolina granted the FDA regulatory powers over tobacco products. The agency has yet to act on this decision.

    Finally, the president announced that federal tobacco legislation must also address the public health issues of smoking, including the effects of secondhand smoke and smoking prevention and cessation programmes.

    Although the president also said that something should be done to protect tobacco farmers' livelihoods, he did not offer any concessions. The settlement that the president rejected had granted the industry immunity from all future liability in exchange for substantial cash payouts. Four of the five largest tobacco companies say that they will work with Congress to produce a plan that would include some of the provisions in the original settlement.

    The public health community has called on Congress to act soon. “We applaud [the president's] leadership in working for an agreement that drives down both youth and adult smoking rates, helps those already addicted to quit, and keeps our children from ever taking up the habit,” said Bill Novelli, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.


    Reducing the number of young people who smoke is a key goal


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