War Of Words Over Tobacco Escalates
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 21) -- The war of words between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich over proposed tobacco legislation escalated Tuesday, threatening the chances of settling on a strong anti-teen smoking policy that both sides say they want.
The president met Tuesday with Democratic leaders in part to plot strategy to pass the anti-tobacco legislation, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Clinton said the legislation would "put an end to the tobacco industry's calculated, multi-million dollar campaign to hook our children early to the deadly habit of smoking."
The bill, opposed by the tobacco companies, Gingrich and other Republicans, calls for the tobacco industry to pay $516 billion over 25 years for social programs. It would also increase the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $1.10 over 10 years and end marketing to youngsters.
Referring to comments made by Gingrich Monday night, suggesting the ads using the Joe Camel cigarette logo were not a factor in youth smoking, Clinton said, "Even as the executives denied they were targeting children, Joe Camel became as recognizable to them as Mickey Mouse.
"Now, some in Congress say that teen smoking has nothing to do with Joe Camel. Medical science and common sense makes it plain. Teen smoking has everything to do with Joe Camel, with unscrupulous marketing campaigns that prey on the insecurities and dreams of our children," Clinton said.
Gingrich elaborated Tuesday on his earlier words, saying the president was confused. "We shouldn't go into one big liberal fantasy that only if we had the right bureaucracy of non-smoking with the right pamphlet, every 13-year-old in America would be convinced."
Speaking at a Republican news conference, Gingrich says he too wants strong anti-tobacco legislation but wants to make sure any cigarette tax increases are directly offset by other tax cuts.
The speaker accused the Clinton Administration of working to raise taxes and build a bigger bureaucracy, rather than fighting teen smoking. "They want bigger bureaucracy, they want higher taxes, they want more government -- what does that have to do with smoking?" Gingrich asked.
"We're prepared to pass an anti-smoking bill. We're prepared to focus on stopping kids from smoking. Now does the president want to stop kids from smoking or does he want a smoke screen behind which he gets higher taxes, bigger bureaucracy, and bigger goverment? The administration talks, but there's no consistency, there's no clarity, there's no focus."
Gingrich said he will only consider raising taxes on cigarettes if they do not create a black market for cigarettes, and if the money goes back to the American people in some type of health care tax cut.
When questioned about remarks he made on Monday night in Pennsylvania, arguing that teen smokers are not enticed by the "Joe Camel" advertising campaign, Gingrich held his position, blaming movies, news and popular culture for tempting teens to take up smoking.
"The president would like you to focus on the tobacco companies," Gingrich said. "My guess is the average teenager who takes up smoking is moved by the pictures they see in the news, people smoking , they're moved by movies they go to, they're moved by peer pressure and all those things, so we shouldn't kid ourselves."
Gingrich said the president was himself sending the wrong signals to young people by his occasional use of cigars.
"I think he's probably right about that," Clinton conceded.
Meanwhile, McCain was at the White House Tuesday as well, trying to salvage his bill.
At a news conference with White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, McCain said, "I think the majority of my colleagues in the House and Senate want to move forward on this issue. They realize the American people want something done and I am confident that over time we can get together and come up with comprehensive legislation.
"Yes, this is controversial and yes, this is all encompassing but I still remain confident that we will, on a bipartisan basis, reach a resolution because frankly we wil not get a resolution otherwise," McCain said.
Bowles said, "The American people know that every day 3,000 kids begin to smoke, 1,000 of them die an early death. They're not going to allow us to go forward this year and not have comprehensive bipartisan legislation. It's in everybody's best interest."
CNN's Ann Curley contributed to this report.