MEDIA WATCH: Promise of tobacco regulation goes up in smoke

The tobacco industry’s federal clout lessened some five years ago when President Clinton announced he was authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. The industry’s fortunes in Washington changed again this week when, on March 21, the Supreme Court ruled the FDA has no authority to do so.

The tobacco industry’s federal clout lessened some five years ago when President Clinton announced he was authorizing the FDA to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug. The industry’s fortunes in Washington changed again this week when, on March 21, the Supreme Court ruled the FDA has no authority to do so.

The tobacco industry’s federal clout lessened some five years ago

when President Clinton announced he was authorizing the FDA to regulate

tobacco as an addictive drug. The industry’s fortunes in Washington

changed again this week when, on March 21, the Supreme Court ruled the

FDA has no authority to do so.



Major media coverage surveyed by CARMA consistently pointed to Congress

as the next major battleground for the industry. The court’s decision

puts the issue ’squarely in the lap of Congress,’ according to former

FDA commissioner David Kessler (National Public Radio, March 21).



Many media outlets across the US noted that in spite of the court’s 5-4

split decision, the judges were unanimous in identifying tobacco use as

a major public health threat. ’The agency has amply demonstrated that

tobacco use, particularly among children and adolescents, poses perhaps

the single most significant threat to public health in the United

States,’ said Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (Washington Post, March

22).



A significant amount of coverage speculated that Congress is unlikely to

do anything for or against tobacco in 2000 because it is a presidential

election year, and ’Big Tobacco’ money buys influence with campaign

cash.



Multiple outlets cited tobacco industry opponent and former Republican

presidential candidate Sen. John McCain as saying, ’I’m not optimistic

that we will be able to get that done until we have campaign finance

reform,’ (Dallas Morning News, March 22).



Some coverage focused attention on the industry’s openness to

regulation.



’We think this decision provides an opportunity to sit down and talk

about what appropriate regulation of cigarettes would look like,’ said

Philip Morris spokesperson Brendan McCormick (Fresno Bee, March 22).



Several outlets identified the industry’s legal troubles as a larger

threat than the federal government. Referring to a Florida class action

lawsuit known as the Engle case, Joseph Lieber, an analyst with

Washington Analysis, said, ’Tobacco’s big fear still is ... the

individual lawsuits.



I think you’re going to continue to see lawsuits filed. I still think

tobacco’s in a very serious situation’ (Nightly Business Report, March

21).



Coverage also noted that tobacco will be an issue in this year’s

presidential election and that its outcome will impact the industry’s

fate in the next Congress. ’The makeup of the White House and Congress

after the fall election may determine any bill’s shape,’ predicted The

New York Times (March 22).



A smaller amount of coverage indicated the industry wants federal

regulation to shield it from potentially bankrupting lawsuits. ’What the

industry wants is containment of lawsuits and peace ... And the way to

get that is through Congress and by putting themselves in a position

where they are willing to be regulated. They are setting themselves up

to deal,’ said industry analyst Mary Aronson (Los Angeles Times, March

22).



While the media repeatedly identified the Supreme Court’s decision as a

victory for the industry, it also emphasized that the decision may be

only a minor detour before some form of federal regulation comes down

tobacco road.





- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA International. Media Watch can be

found at www.carma.com.



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