OF CAMELS AND COWBOYS
MAY 16, 1996
On Wednesday, the Phillip Morris Company, along with the U.S. Tobacco Company, announced proposed regulations to curb teen smoking. The new law would eliminate cigarette vending machines and limit advertising. President Clinton and anti-smoking groups say the offer was simply a cosmetic attempt to deflect criticism and avoid tougher government regulations. Elizabeth Farnsworth talks to two experts with opposing points of view.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: A 1995 University of Michigan study found that while teenage smoking had declined throughout the 1980s, it began rising again in the early 90's. According to the study, 3,000 teenagers become regular smokers each day. The biggest increase was among thirteen and fourteen year olds whose smoking rates increased 30 percent. Anti-smoking activists say tobacco companies have targeted teens with marketing campaigns such as the Joe Camel promotion. One study found the cartoonish figure was as recognizable as Mickey Mouse among young children. Last August, the Clinton administration proposed the first federal attempt to directly regulate cigarette sales to minors.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: So today I am authorizing the Food & Drug Administration to initiate a broad series of steps all designed to stop sales and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco to children. Now, nobody much likes government regulation. And I would prefer it if we could have done this in some other way. The only other way I can think of is if Congress were to write these restrictions into law. They could do that, and if they do, this rule could become unnecessary. But it is wrong to believe that we can take a voluntary approach to this problem.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The FDA proposal included regulating the sale and promotion of cigarettes because of evidence that nicotine is an addictive drug, restricting cigarette advertising in publications with significant youth readership, banning billboard ads for cigarettes within one thousand feet of schools or playgrounds, and banning vending machine sales of cigarettes. FDA Commissioner David Kessler spoke on the NewsHour.
DAVID KESSLER, FDA Commissioner: (August 10, 1995) What we care about are putting into place steps to reduce the amount of kids who start smoking. Now, it doesn't have to be FDA who does it. It doesn't have to be by regulations, but it has to be comprehensive, it has to be enforceable, and it has to be meaningful. That's what's important.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yesterday there was a new twist when two tobacco giants proposed legislation which pointedly would preclude any major role for the FDA. Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, and the United States Tobacco Company, the largest seller of smokeless tobacco, announced a legislative blueprint which would follow some FDA proposals, including banning cigarette advertising within one thousand feet of schools and playgrounds and banning vending machine sales of tobacco products. But there are some important differences. The company's proposal would restrict cigarette advertising in publications, but in far fewer than the FDA wants, limit sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies but with key exceptions, and keep federal regulation out of the hands of the FDA. Today President Clinton responded.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't think it's enough but I do believe that it's an indication that there may be some way that we can agree on legislation to do this. If all the tobacco companies will voluntarily accept legislation containing the limits that will be as effective as what we propose, I will say again we believe it's better to have the companies come forward and ask for legislation and the FDA has made perfectly clear that they will stop their efforts to impose regulations if we can have a joint agreement on a legislative solution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now for more on this we turn to Steve Parrish, senior vice president for corporate affairs for Philip Morris, and Matthew Meyers, executive vice president and general counsel of the Center for Tobacco-Free Kids. The center is a privately-sponsored umbrella organization of anti-tobacco groups. Thank you both for being with us. Mr. Parrish, why these proposals now?
STEVE PARRISH, Philip Morris Companies: (New York) Well, as you pointed out in the opening segment there, when the study came out in 1995, it said there was an increase in under-age use of tobacco. That was of concern not only to us but obviously to a lot of people, including the President, Commissioner Kessler, anti-tobacco groups. Uh, we announced a voluntary initiative last summer to try to keep cigarettes out of the hands of kids, but as you just heard, when President Clinton announced the FDA initiative, he said he would have preferred not to have FDA regulation and have federal legislation, so we've been working to try to respond to the FDA docket but also on trying to put together this very comprehensive legislative plan that we put forward yesterday, and we're briefing members of Congress, we're starting to get bipartisan support for our legislative approach.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Myers, what is your view of the legislative plan?
MATTHEW MYERS, Center for Tobacco-Free Kids: Well, we'd welcome a comprehensive legislative approach. Unfortunately, this plan falls far short of what's necessary to have any real impact on kids smoking. It falls far short in a couple of areas, most importantly advertising, sponsorship, and public education. Advertising is a perfect example where there is an appearance of change, but there'll be no real significant change. Let me give you an example. The--every day in this country 3,000 children light up, a million a year. Virtually all of them start smoking the most heavily advertised brands. The reality is that the Marlboro Man, the Camel works perfectly well in getting kids to smoke.
Under the proposal put forth by Mr. Parrish and Philip Morris, not a single major publication, no matter how many children read it, that takes tobacco advertising today will be forced to change its practices. For example, "Sports Illustrated," with over 20 percent readership of teenagers and younger but only 7 or 6 1/2 percent of teenagers who actually subscribe, will continue to carry ads like this with Joe Camel literally offering them free concert tickets. Under the FDA proposal, Joe Camel will disappear from "Sports Illustrated" but under the Philip Morris proposal, Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man will continue to reach out at our children in virtually every publication that they currently appear.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let me put this--Mr. Parrish, what about that?
MR. PARRISH: Well, a couple of points. First of all, Matt knows very good and well that Joe Camel is not one of our products. But that's not the point. The point is this: that Matt is a lawyer. He knows very good and well--very well that in light of the Supreme Court's decision this Monday in the Liquor Mart case, that there are very real constitutional problems with the FDA proposal and the kinds of things that he is talking about are not going to be allowed under the First Amendment. What we have tried to do in our plan is have a more tailored, focused plan that adopts many of the FDA proposals, such as moving all--removing, eliminating, banning all billboards within a thousand feet of schools and playgrounds so that we can dramatically reduce the amount of cigarette and tobacco advertising that kids are exposed to. What we are trying to do is just what the President asked us to do, to reach out and find the common ground. We're willing to work with people like Matt and others in the anti-tobacco community but I would submit it doesn't do us any good if all they do is sit on the sidelines and criticize what we've done. We've come a mile here. They're refusing to move an inch. They want everything, and including ignoring the First Amendment in the United States Constitution.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Parrish, let me just get it clear, the FDA proposal would outlaw--you're saying it may not be upheld in the courts--but would outlaw advertising like this or the Marlboro Man, which is your product, in magazines like "Sports Illustrated," but your legislation won't? Just clarify that.
MR. PARRISH: What we had proposed is that tobacco advertising be banned in all publications which have 15 percent or more youth subscribership. We think subscribership is a very appropriate way to look at this because it tells you whether a publication is a youth-oriented publication or not. The subscribership data is very reliable, it's objective, and it's easy to be obtained. We have not gone back and tried to compare what magazines that we advertise in now will or won't fall away as a result of our proposal. We've tried to come up with something and put in on the table for people to discuss to get this debate going, which is what President Clinton asked us to do last week when he asked the tobacco industry don't stand silent on this, get involved in the debate, be a part of the solution. We've done that. He thanked us publicly for that today, and said he looked forward to discussing it with us further, and we are looking very much forward to that as well.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Very briefly on the advertising issue, because I want to move on.
MR. MYERS: Sure. You know, unfortunately, the difference between Philip Morris's proposal and the President's proposal is the difference between real change and no change. The reality is under Philip Morris's proposal, no magazine that currently carries advertising that includes the Marlboro cowboy will be forced to change.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean because they don't have 15 percent--
MR. MYERS: Because they don't have 15 percent youth subscribers. Kids don't subscribe to magazines, not to "Sports Illustrated," not to "Rolling Stone," despite the fact that 20 to 25 percent of both of those magazines are [read by] children. If they want real change, let's stop playing word games and let's get rid of the Marlboro cowboy and Joe Camel in those places where they have the greatest impact on kids.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, now moving on, this legislation would, as I understand it, and this is directed to you, Mr. Myers at this point, preclude the FDA from regulating the tobacco industry. Why is that a problem from your point of view?
MR. MYERS: It's a very serious problem. Just at a time we've learned through secret tobacco industry documents that for far too long we have been unaware of the extent to which the tobacco industry manipulated nicotine to make its products more addictive or added or subtracted other chemicals that had a dramatic impact on it. We didn't know that because there was no federal agency with jurisdiction to look into it. FDA, if it asserts jurisdiction, will have the authority to protect the American public on those important issues. Otherwise, we have no one who can protect us on those issues.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why didn't the FDA have the jurisdiction then?
MR. MYERS: The FDA, umm, for many years didn't assert jurisdiction over tobacco because it didn't have the evidence that the tobacco industry actually controlled the level of nicotine, a powerful drug, with the intent to addict or have a drug-like effect on consumers. As a result of the most comprehensive investigation that the tobacco industry ever conducted by the Food & Drug Administration, it now appears that there is overwhelming evidence that FDA does have jurisdiction and is prepared to assert that jurisdiction to protect American consumers. You know, there is no other consumer product that there is no federal agency that can't look into what's in it and whether it's harmful. It's time that we leveled the playing field so that cigarettes and other tobacco products were under the same supervision as other foods, other drugs, and other consumer products. We think that's vital.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Parrish, what do you think about that?
MR. PARRISH: Well, Matt is squarely at odds with the President of the United States and the overwhelming majority in both parties in the House and the Senate when he says that FDA regulation is essential. The President reiterated again today and said the FDA agrees with him that they want a legislative solution to this. If Matt Myers wants FDA regulation over the content of cigarettes, my suggestion is, Matt, work with us, get this federal youth bill passed right now, and get the youth issue taken care of, and then go ahead and introduce a separate bill whenever you want to say that FDA can regulate tobacco and I know why you won't want to do that is because the President doesn't want that. The overwhelming majority of the members of Congress don't want that. The American people don't want that. They want us to have tough federal legislation that can deal with the issue now, not have a big regulatory delay, bureaucratic delay, and years of litigation over the onerous provisions that the FDA has proposed. Let's get on with this. Let's find the common ground and deal with this problem of youth smoking.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What's wrong with that?
MR. MYERS: If Philip Morris was serious, we'd be the first ones at the table. We are concerned about the 3,000 kids who become addicted every day. Unfortunately, the proposal put forth by Philip Morris is filled with rhetoric but not very much substance. There will be no dramatic change in advertising. The sporting events that have the heaviest impact on youth will continue unabated. The major public education program proposed by the President, which is a critical component of a comprehensive plan, is virtually eliminated, and there will be no oversight, whether by legislature or anywhere else, of what the tobacco does--industry does to manipulate its products. We think that we'd love to find common ground, but it's going to require Philip Morris to become serious with substantive proposals, not proposals that just look good at the surface.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Parrish, very briefly, is it possible that this would be a sort of, of a base from which to move in legislation, that there will be negotiations, there could be changes and there could be more in it?
MR. PARRISH: Well, we said yesterday when we had our press conference, and we said again today in response to the President's comments, that we look forward to the dialogue that we started yesterday. We've been talking to members of Congress, and we look forward to talking to anybody including, I'd be willing to sit down with Matt and talk about how we can get him to support our proposal. Umm, so we're willing to listen to anybody and talk with anybody. What the President said today is he would like to see enacted into law measures that would be as effective as what--
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I have to interrupt you, sir.
MR. PARRISH: --the FDA proposed.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: I'm so sorry.
MR. PARRISH: So we're willing to have a talk.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you very much, both of you, for being with us.