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Democrats decry tobacco in hearings


September 11, 1996
Web posted at: 10:45 p.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Justin Hoover, 12, started smoking because he thought it was cool. Now he can't stop.

"I'm smoking seven cigarettes a day," he said. "One in the morning and six after school."

Along with a host of other anti-tobacco advocates, Hoover and his addiction counselor went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to lecture Democratic senators about the evils of smoking.

But the panel was already converted. The purpose of the informal hearing was to contrast the Democrats' activist approach to regulating tobacco with their Republican counterparts'.


I'm smoking seven cigarettes a day. One in the morning and six after school.

-- Justin Hoover

Said Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey: "They publicly pushed their contract with America. Privately, they pursued another contract, the contract of silence with tobacco companies."

Republicans dismissed the event as little more than political theater. Bob Dole's campaign didn't respond, but the Republican senator from North Carolina, Lauch Faircloth, decried Democrats for what he called their insensitivity to North Carolina's tobacco farmers who lost more than $200 million in crops from last week's hurricane.

Wednesday's hearing was unofficial because the Republican-held Congress ended the lawmakers' tobacco investigations in 1994.

Last month the Food and Drug Administration declared nicotine an addictive drug and issued sweeping new regulations designed to limit smoking among teenagers.

Democrats Wednesday expressed concern the tobacco industry might cut a back room deal with Republicans that would settle the billions of dollars worth of state-filed lawsuits pending against the industry for health care costs related to smoking.

"Clearly this legislation to terminate the state tobacco lawsuits and to halt the FDA controls on marketing to kids will have a sweeping effect on the whole nation," said Hubert Humphrey III, Minnesota's attorney general.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said if the parties could get together, he'd be willing to help. But no deal is in the works for Congress to take over the tobacco issue.

Throughout Wednesday's hearings there were overtures to the 1996 presidential campaign. Without identifying him by name, Iowa's Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, attacked Dole for making "irresponsible statements," when he suggested last spring that milk is as harmful to kids as tobacco.

The most dramatic testimony came from cancer patients like Alan Lander, a one-time Winston cigarettes model.


His doctor caught him smoking the night before Landers' operation to remove a tumor from his lung.

"He looked at me and said, 'I can't believe that you're smoking,'" said Lander. "I started crying and said, 'I can't help it, doctor.' That's how addictive it is."

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company dismissed the hearing as nothing more than a press conference, but tobacco opponents used the oppotunity to tell their story in a high-profile setting.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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