BIG TOBACCO: Is Industry’s Influence Too Powerful?
As tobacco companies and their opponents "scrambled yesterday to respond to the high court's decision barring the FDA from regulating the tobacco industry," some members of Congress said it would be difficult to defeat the political clout of Big Tobacco. "The tobacco industry has the ability to stop legislation if they are inclined to," Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said. He added, "I think the Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate have exhibited pretty clearly that they are beholden to the tobacco industry." According to the Federal Election Commission, tobacco companies spent $34.4 million lobbying Congress and the Clinton administration between July 1998 and June 1999. Moreover, tobacco interests spent an estimated $40 million on radio and television ads between April and July 1998 to defeat an anti-tobacco bill. The legislation, co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), would have forced the industry to pay $516 billion to federal and state governments to recoup the health care costs spent on tobacco-related illnesses.
"The tobacco industry has spent many years and many millions of dollars buying influence on Capitol Hill," Kathryn Kahler Vose, spokesperson for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said. She added, "Judging from what I heard today, the industry's version of regulation is virtually no regulation at all." But Brendan McCormick of Philip Morris said, "Our time will best be spent hammering out a resolution everyone can live with rather than continuing the name calling of the past." He added, "We want to make progress on the issue of federal regulation of cigarettes, and to do that we need to have a seat at the table." McCain, back in the Senate after leaving the presidential campaign trail, expressed doubt that Congress would take action against big tobacco because of financial interests. But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said, "I disagree with John McCain about Congress' inability to legislate on tobacco until we have campaign-finance reform. I think we can pat our heads and rub our stomachs at the same time." He said that Congress "can and will pass legislation reversing the Supreme Court decision ... [and] giving the FDA authority to deal with tobacco, especially tobacco sales to minors" (Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/23).