Tobacco Balks In D.C.

Big Tobacco’s decision to oppose the comprehensive legislation that emerged from the U.S. Senate puts the ad industry in a precarious position, trade industry groups said.
Broad advertising restrictions that were put into the bill on a voluntary basis are now at risk of being turned into law, a move that would lead advertising trade groups back into battle.
After nearly a year of lobbying and negotiating with Congress, top tobacco company executives said last week they would fight in court the legislation by the U.S. Senate, which is harsher on the industry than the settlement reached with the states last June. Ad lobbyists on Capitol Hill, however, considered the same bill a victory, at least in part, because it left broad advertising restrictions voluntary.
“We’re in greater danger now of having ad restrictions made into law than ever before,” said John Fithian, counsel to the Freedom to Advertise Coalition in Washington, D.C. “Our efforts to express our First Amendment concerns about the process must double.”
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the architect of the legislation, could not be reached at press time, but senate sources said the legislation will move forward without the tobacco industry’s support.
The bill that was born in the Senate Commerce Committee–and lived to see the light of day–demanded that tobacco marketers pay $516 billion instead of $368 billion while chipping away at the limited immunity in class-action lawsuits and increasing taxes on cigarettes.
“Washington has taken a great negotiated resolution of these issues on a comprehensive scale and turned it into a piece of big-government, big-tax legislation to fund all kinds of programs” said a tobacco industry representative.