Tobacco Debate Heats Up Campaign
By Brooks Jackson/CNN
WASHINGTON (June 18) -- Despite the tobacco industry's historically close ties with political leaders in Washington, the commodity suddenly has become an issue in the 1996 presidential campaign.
Part of the heat stems from a verbal battle between Vice President Al Gore and Bob Dole.
In an attack this week, Gore accused Dole of being addicted to contributions from tobacco companies. "Kick the habit, Senator Dole," Gore admonished him. "It's not worth stinking up your reputation with the smoky stench of special-interest politics and the dangerous din of dishonesty."
Dole was already on the defensive about tobacco after making a comment comparing cigarettes to milk. Dole said, "We know it (cigarette smoking) is not good for kids, but a lot of other things aren't good. Drinking is not good. Some would say milk is not good."
Dole's milk comment seemed to refer to a tobacco industry advertisement running in British papers. In the ad, Phillip Morris claims that the fat content in milk makes it as dangerous as tobacco. The ad urges consumers to keep the tobacco debate in perspective.
Backed by statistics showing that barely one in four Americans smokes, the Democratic party is betting that tobacco has finally lost its popularity among voters. But some political insiders think the Dole campaign has misread where voters stand.
"I don't think that Dole has realized that the issue has moved from where it has been over the years. That is, that people don't like the money and they do want kids protected, and I don't think that's caught up with him," said Michael Pertschuk of the Advocacy Institute.
For their part, Republicans question whether Clinton can win on the tobacco issue. GOP political consultant Eddie Mahe asked, "Whose votes are they going to get? They already have the Hollywood crowd, because they smoke different kind of cigarettes. They already have those votes....They already have the real liberal votes who would be really motivated by this. Whose votes are they going after?"
A recent CNN/TIME Poll could answer some of Mahe's questions. Nearly half of those polled last week said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to limit the tobacco industry's access to children, while only 14 percent would be less likely to vote for someone who supports marketing cigarettes to kids.
The tobacco industry connection marks a clear difference between the two parties. Last year, the GOP collected well more than $2 million in corporate donations from tobacco companies. The Democratic party, on the other hand, received less than $500,000. While political action committees donated more than $1 million to Republicans through March, they did not even contribute $350,000 on Democratic candidates.
Dole has particularly close ties to the tobacco industry. He has taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions from tobacco companies, and he has repeatedly flown in tobacco company planes.
When the Food and Drug Administration proposed a measure that would have made brand-name sponsorships illegal, Dole appeared at a Winston Cup stock car racing event to show support for the industry.
On the other hand, Gore's sister died from lung cancer, putting him at odds with the tobacco industry.
In this election, the tobacco lobby could be ousted from the prominent position of power it held from the time of George Washington, who grew tobacco, through the terms of FDR, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.
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