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Truce In The Tobacco Wars?

April 7, 2000 - Debate over proposed federal regulation of tobacco is a harmonious political dance, so far.

"Nicotine is a drug. Cigarette smoking is addictive, I've said. So to me, we have a lot of common ground here," Steven Parrish, senior vice president for cigarette maker Philip Morris, told CBS News' Face The Nation on Sunday.

That sounds a lot like one lawmaker who wants the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco.

"It's in everyone's interest to have a regulatory scheme in place, so that the tobacco industry knows the rules and that we recognize that we've got to do something about a very real problem of children smoking," said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) on Face The Nation.

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that only Congress could authorize federal regulation of tobacco. Waxman regards that ruling as a green light to move forward.

"When we have 3,000 kids starting to smoke every day, 400,000 people die each year from tobacco, it would be irresponsible for the Congress not to do our job." he said.

Waxman added he hopes his legislation on FDA regulation will make it to the House floor, where he believes it would pass.

"It's not my purpose to run them out of business," he said.

"If at some point, people don't smoke and they go into another line of business, so be it but I don't think that's going to happen. My hope is that we can stop kids from smoking because most adults wouldn't take up this habit."

Parrish with Philip Morris replied, "If Congress decides that the Food and Drug Administration is the appropriate body to regulate us, I have no problem with that."

But, he added, "it is a mistake for the FDA to regulate cigarettes as medical devices or pharmaceutical products, which was the proposal that the Supreme Court struck down" in its ruling.

And Parrish urged lawmakers not to repeat past failures this time around, citing Congress' unsuccessful attempt to pass a nationwide tobacco settlement.

"What I think we need to do is do it the right way: sit down with members of Congress, try to address their concerns, fashion a regulatory approach with Members of Congress, and then move forward with it."

Parrish also laid down his industry's preferred parameters for regulation.

"If we can start with looking at manufacturing processes, ingredients, ingredient disclosure and regulation, safer cigarettes and then move, if there are other areas, then I think that's the way we ought to go."

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