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Clinton Attacks Tobacco

April 7, 2000 - President Clinton paused during a week's trip to South Asia Saturday to note a disappointment at home. The Supreme Court ruling that the Clinton administration lacked authority to assign tobacco regulation to the Food and Drug Administration leaves hopes for smoking curbs "in Congress' court," the president said.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Clinton called the Supreme Court decision "a setback for the health of our children," but noted that the majority opinion labeled smoking "perhaps the most significant threat to health in the United States."

"The American people know this. They've known it for a long time," Mr. Clinton said. "Now the ball is in Congress' court. They should know how they also understand the danger to our young people and give the FDA's tobacco regulations the force of law."

The Supreme Court, in its 5-4 decision Tuesday, said the FDA was exercising an authority not granted by Congress when it reversed a decades-old policy in 1996 and sought to crack down on cigarette sales to minors.

"The FDA wrote very strong effective rules to prevent any child under 18 from buying any tobacco product anywhere in the United States," the president said, and was preparing new regulations to end tobacco advertising aimed at young people.

"This effort had strong support from public health leaders in both parties in Congress, but it collapsed under the pressure of tobacco companies and the Republican leadership in Congress," Mr. Clinton said. The tobacco industry also challenged the rules in court.

He urged Congress to pass bipartisan smoking controls.

"This is not a partisan issue. It's a health issue for our nation and a life-or-death issue for children," the president added.

Any effort to regulate the tobacco industry faces strong obstacles in Congress, as witnessed two years ago when the Senate defeated an ambitious antismoking plan championed by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

McCain's plan would have raised $516 billion over 25 years from increased prices for cigarettes, bolstered antismoking campaigns and given the FDA authority to regulate nicotine.

The McCain bill had majority support but fell three short of getting the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. Many Republicans said they couldn't accept it because the bill, by increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes, violated their promise not to impose any new taxes.

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