Big Tobacco Escapes, For Now

When the dust settled on Capitol Hill last week, only one thing was clear about the future of Big Tobacco: It ain’t over until the legislative session ends. There are about 40 days left for Congress to sing.
GOP Sen. John McCain’s tobacco bill–and the regulations restricting cigarette advertising contained within it–effectively died last week when Republicans in the Senate pulled it on a technicality. However, some Democrats have pledged to tie the Senate in knots by reintroducing the McCain bill as an amendment to every other proposal that appears on the floor.
The spotlight is now on the Republican leadership in the House, which is in the process of shaping a “tobacco-lite” bill [Adweek Dossier, May 18]. Currently, the bill does not include advertising restrictions, but it could eliminate the deductibility of advertising expenses. Ad lobbyists have been trying to steer the GOP out of that area. The legislation will be crafted by the commerce committee and is expected on the floor in mid-July.
Democrats may balk at the leaner GOP bill. “My opinion is that Democrats want a campaign issue at this stage, not a scaled-back bill,” said one source. “Senate Democrats will probably not sign off on the House bill.”
“If [Democrats] want to get something done for the American people,” Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said Thursday, “they’ll have to work with me.”
The McCain bill had grown into a $516 billion, 400-page piece of legislation and was laden with amendments that Republicans described as “tax and spend big-government.” The bill also gave the Federal Drug Administration authority to restrict tobacco advertising and eliminate the deduction for advertising expenses.