TOBACCO DEAL: Gets Mixed Reviews
Many groups with a stake in the landmark tobacco settlement yesterday expressed reserved satisfaction, praising the attorneys general for finally getting a deal done, but insisting that more steps be taken. At a press conference yesterday in the Roosevelt Room, President Clinton said, "Now, let me join the others in once again saying that today is a milestone in the long struggle to protect our children from tobacco. ... But we have a lot more to do, for only the national government can take the full range of steps needed to protect our children fully. ... So it is still up to Congress to act, to rise to its responsibility to pass national tobacco legislation." Clinton also noted that the solicitor general will ask the Supreme Court for a review of the appeals court decision that struck down the Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate tobacco (11/16). Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire (D), the lead negotiator of the settlement, echoed the president. "It's time that we got out of litigation, onto making progress in America today, and call on Congress to do their job where they left off, and didn't accomplish it this last year," she said ("The NewsHour," PBS, 11/16). The American Cancer Society's Jennie Cook said, "It is the responsibility of Congress to pass legislation which strengthens the [FDA's] authority to fully regulate tobacco" (ACS release, 11/16). But CNN's Dulaney reports, "What particularly unnerves anti-smoking groups is they say the agreement effectively partners state and Big Tobacco, making the likelihood of sweeping federal legislation less likely than ever" ( "Worldview," 11/16). The Wall Street Journal reports that should Congress move to legislate again, "the tobacco industry is determined to oppose any bill that isn't crafted to its specifications." While there "are some new ideas blooming in the Senate," the House stands the best chance of passing a bill with its pickup of five Democrat seats (Taylor, 11/17). Aides to President Clinton "are playing down suggestions that the White House" will propose a tobacco tax increase in the FY 2000 budget (Koffler, CongressDaily, 11/16).
The AP/Nando Times reports that while states have until Friday to accept or reject the deal, twelve have already committed (11/17). As the terms of the deal were reported yesterday, "backers moved to win the broad approval" among states needed to "clinch the deal." Not all attorneys general, however, appear willing to sign on, and may in fact be looking for partners with whom to hold out. Maryland Attorney General Joseph Curran (D) said, "If there are a sufficient number willing to opt out, that would weigh very heavily on our minds" (Torry, Washington Post, 11/17). California Attorney General-elect Bill Lockyer (D) called the Friday deadline "absurd," noting that the rush "could easily undermine public support" (Morain, Los Angeles Times, 11/17). Some public health groups who are disappointed with the deal pressured the attorneys general to not sign on. American Lung Association Director John Garrison said the organization is "not at all happy with this settlement, because we think this should be rejected. ... This is not a good first step. This is a step backwards" ("The NewsHour," PBS, 11/16). Consumer advocate Ralph Nader added: "The multistate settlement agreement between some state attorneys general and Big Tobacco is plainly a sweetheart deal concocted by the addictive companies' law firms for the industry. State AGs should reject it" (Nando Times, 11/17).
- Washington Post: "Our sense is that the administration ought first to file a federal lawsuit, patterned after the state successes, to recover past federal tobacco- related health care costs, which are considerable. ... If the court action fails, time enough to return to Congress on taxes. Are the Republicans who blocked this year's legislation for or against its regulation? That's how it ought to be pitched. The election results will make it harder for the Republicans to say no a second time" (11/17).
- New York Daily News: "The best feature about this plan -- and the worst one about the AG's first scheme of June 1997 -- concerns liability immunity. This plan offers no protection to the tobacco peddlers, which was the fatal flaw of the first plan" (11/17).
- USA Today: "Only congressional action can break tobacco's hold on the young. ... Unfortunately, none of that is likely soon. A Congress that is addicted to Big Tobacco's campaign contributions, and couldn't accept the earlier deals, won't take bold steps easily. But if smoking is to be curtailed before it begins -- overwhelmingly among teens -- that's the direction the country must go" (11/17).
A commentary piece by Richard Tomkins in today's Financial Times warns that the tobacco settlement may "open the floodgates to copy-cat lawsuits against other businesses as trial lawyers look for their next big target" -- perhaps alcohol, guns or fatty foods. He notes that on the issue of tobacco, lawyers were able to succeed by stressing Medicaid compensation to divorce "the issue of smoking from personal responsibility." George Priest, professor of economics and law at Yale University said, "There [is] no reason why suits on this theory should not be brought against almost any industry. Actually, the largest source of hospital injury in the U.S. is that people fall down stairs. Should we be bringing these suits against the lumber industry or the contractors who build the stairs? It's a very unfortunate failure to take the notion of personal responsibility seriously" (11/17). Click here to read a Richmond Times-Dispatch article about the possible legal and financial effects the deal will have on the cigarette manufacturers.