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AMA gives tobacco settlement a partial thumbs-up

Graphic July 31, 1997
Web posted at: 11:50 p.m. EDT (0350 GMT)

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The controversial proposed settlement between the tobacco industry and the attorneys general from most states got a muted endorsement Thursday from the American Medical Association.

The nation's largest doctor's group called the deal a "landmark effort which contains many otherwise unachievable benefits."

"The AMA believes the proposed tobacco litigation settlement represents a historic opportunity," said the AMA's Dr. Richard Corlin. "It can be a powerful tool for diminishing the surge of smoking."

No other group has gone that far in supporting the settlement, but the AMA also said it wanted to see some changes in the $368 billion deal.

It wants stronger regulatory control by the Food and Drug Administration over tobacco, but with a 12-year grace period before the agency could ban nicotine. The latter is something other groups oppose.

It also wants tougher penalties against the industry for not reducing the number of young smokers quickly enough.

"Having to give up the profits they make is not a penalty," Corlin said. "That just puts you back to ground zero."

AMA has 'vested interest' in proposal

The settlement proposal has been under attack from some quarters almost since it was announced.

A coalition of health groups chaired by former FDA Commissioner David Kessler and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop have been among those condemning the deal as being too soft on the tobacco industry.

"If that is the best you can do, then do it," Kessler has said. "But I believe that history will not look kindly on your timidness."

The American Lung Association has opposed it from the outset, noting that it would do little to stop the industry from pitching its advertising toward children.

The American Cancer Society, which initially supported the settlement, now says it will approve it only if major changes are made. Linda Crawford of the ACS points out that the AMA participated in the negotiations, so its approval could hardly be called a surprise.

"...they do have a vested interest in supporting the settlement," Crawford said. "And they do support it because they feel that it does move the lever in public health."

Health groups meet next week


Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore, the lead negotiator in the settlement, said he welcomed the AMA's comments and would take them back to the bargaining table.

"The difference is it was constructive criticism," he said. "What you heard from these guys is, 'Here's what's good about the settlement. Here's where we wish you would improve it a little bit.'"

The AMA and other health groups will meet next week in an attempt to reach a consensus on the settlement before it undergoes political surgery on Capitol Hill.

Correspondent Jeff Levine contributed to this report.  
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