BIG TOBACCO: Acceptance of Regulations Raises Suspicions
Many anti-tobacco activists are suspicious of Philip Morris's announcement yesterday that it is willing to discuss federal restrictions on tobacco, saying the move is an attempt to "recast its battered image," the New York Times reports. "It's a great first step," Jeff Nesbit a consultant who works with anti-tobacco groups, said. He added, "But now there are some hard questions that needed to be asked, for this industry has practiced deceit and deception" (Meier, 3/1). Although the company has tentatively agreed to allow some government regulations of its product, negotiations should be entered cautiously, the editors of USA Today argue. The column maintains that Philip Morris "spent more than $30 million blocking tobacco regulation in Congress in 1998," and has changed its position because it is "worried about punitive damages" in a Florida lawsuit as well as another huge federal lawsuits. The result has cut the company's stock by half since last summer. The editors note that a "share now costs less than a carton of its ubiquitous Marlboros" (3/1).
While many are analyzing yesterday's announcement, President Clinton said he was "heartened" by the news of the company's willingness "to accept government regulation of tobacco," the Washington Post reports. The president added, "If Philip Morris is ready to support the FDA provisions of the tobacco bill the industry and the congressional leadership killed just two years ago, that is an important step forward" (Kaufman, 3/1). Regardless, many are still wary of the company's motives. Mary Aronson, the president of Aronson Washington Research, a company that follows tobacco litigation, said she was "confused about Philip Morris's motives." Other industry analysts, like Aronson, believe that the Supreme Court would rule that the FDA "did not have statutory authority over tobacco," but even with that victory for big tobacco, the industry still faces "more legal pummeling from mounting lawsuits, including an action by the Justice Department seeking to recover hundreds of millions of dollars in federal health care costs spent treating tobacco-related ills" (New York Times, 3/1). The editors of USA Today, however, conclude, "Congress could end this battle by granting broad regulatory power to the FDA" (3/1).