TEEN SMOKING: Clinton to Roll Out New Efforts
As part of his plan to curb teenage smoking, President Clinton will unveil a plan that would fine tobacco companies $3,000 for each smoker under age 18 if underage smoking is not cut in half by 2004, the Washington Post reports. Bruce Reed, Clinton's top domestic policy adviser, said the fines, which could net the government up to $6 billion annually, would remain until the 50% reduction goal is reached. According to a White House release, "This $3,000 annual assessment represents twice the lifetime profits the industry is expected to make from hooking teens on cigarettes." Reed added, "Our strong view is the tobacco industry knows more than anyone else on Earth how to addict young people to tobacco, and they're in a better position than anyone else to stop them in the first place." Clinton also is expected to propose a 25-cents-a-pack increase in the federal excise tax on cigarettes and will ask to accelerate implementation on an already legislated 5-cent increase, "making it apply on Oct. 1 rather than Jan. 1, 2002, as now scheduled." Clinton also will recommend that all state Medicaid programs pay for prescription and non-prescription smoking-cessation drugs. He will call for increased spending on programs to prevent minors from getting cigarettes.
No New Taxes!
The Washington Post reports that the $3,000 fine "may get a frosty reception in the Republican-led Congress, which rejected [Clinton's] call last year for a 55-cents-per-pack increase in the federal tax on cigarettes." Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) said the fine "is simply a new tax by another name," adding, "We all share the goals of reducing teen smoking, but the knee-jerk reaction of this White House is to raise taxes. ... There isn't going to be a tax increase passed by this Congress." Jan Smith, spokesperson for R.J. Reynolds Co., added, "Regardless of what kind of budget-speak he couches it in, a tax is a tax is a tax." Mike Pfeil, spokesperson for Philip Morris U.S.A, said the penalty "is unreasonable because it would be tied to teenagers' behavior, 'not on anything the industry did or did not do.'" On the other hand, Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, praised the proposals, saying, "We think a plan like this is the only way the tobacco companies will ever seriously reduce tobacco smoking among children" (Babington, 2/4).