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Jewish World Review / May 1, 1998 / 5 Iyar, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon Bubba v. Tabacka

WASHINGTON -- In his third attack on the tobacco industry in seven days, President Clinton said this week that cigarette manufacturers view America's young people as mere "replacement smokers" for those who die every day from smoking.

"But they are our children," Clinton said, "and we can't replace them."

Citing a new report by Surgeon General David Satcher that shows an increase in smoking by all young people, but especially African American teenagers, Clinton said, "This has become an issue of health, not politics."

Yet politics was not far in the background as Clinton spoke on the South Lawn of the White House, with 28 young people standing behind him wearing bright red T-shirts that said: "Campaign for Tobacoo Free Kids."

White House political strategists were only too happy to portray the Democratic Party as the party that cares about children and health, while portraying the Republicans as the party protecting the tobacco industry.

"Clinton used tobacco to beat Bob Dole in 1996," one White House aide said, "and we will use it to defeat Republicans in 1998 and 2000."

Satcher's 332-page report released this week says that about a third of young people smoke and while smoking has increased by one-third among all young people in the last six years, it has increased by 80 percent among black youth.

Among the four minority groups studied -- African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives -- lung cancer is the leading cancer death, with African American men having a lung cancer death rate 50 percent higher than whites. Satcher's report, his first and the 24th from the surgeon general's office on tobacco and health, states, "The tobacco industry has targeted advertising and promotion campaigns in ethnic and minority communities that pose serious challenges to reducing smoking among this population." In one city studied, according to the report, 62 percent of the billboards in predominantly black neighborhoods advertised cigarettes, compared with 36 percent citywide.

"Every day, 3,000 children become regular smokers, and 1,000 of them will die as a result," Satcher, who spoke before Clinton, said. "But all the news from the report is not bad: Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in America. So let's get busy and prevent it."

Ways to prevent it are controversial, however. The Clinton administration favors a bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that would raise $516 billion by increasing the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $1.10 over five years. The McCain bill would also limit tobacco advertising and place tobacco regulation under the Food and Drug Administration.

At one time, the White House was so confident of such a bill passing that Clinton's fiscal 1999 budget currently contains $65 billion in spending spread over five years that would come from tobacco legislation. But though the McCain bill looks as if it might pass the Senate, it faces a very tough fight in the House, where Speaker New Gingrich has already attacked it as being a "very liberal, big-government, big-bureaucracy bill." Clinton sharply attacked Gingrich and the Republicans in public last week, but White House political strategists are privately delighted that the Republicans seem to be allying themselves with the tobacco industry.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) attended the South Lawn ceremony at which Clinton and Satcher spoke and said he favors some kind of tobacco legislation but is not supporting the McCain bill because he believe it is too tough and would bankrupt tobacco companies. Hatch also said that by raising the cost of cigarettes, it could force teenagers to seek satisfaction elsewhere. "What I'm afraid of is we're going to push the price up so high that we're going to push these kids onto marijuana," Hatch said.

Clinton said that Satcher's report "gives us fresh evidence that those of us in this society who are adults, and especially those of us who are parents, are not doing our jobs very well." Clinton said that parents have done a good job strapping kids into car safety seats and bundling them up against the winter cold but have not protected kids enough "when it comes to resisting advertising, peer pressures or whatever other forces get young people into smoking, even though it's illegal to sell cigarettes to children in every state in the United States."

"This is not rocket science," Clinton said. "The big issue is that the children behind me deserve to have a future. And we know that unless we do something to stop them from being treated as replacement smokers, their future will be restricted."


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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.