WASHINGTON (AP) - President Clinton imposed historic limits Friday on peddling cigarettes to children, gambling that battle with the tobacco industry will win middle-class votes. "This epidemic is no accident," he said.
The Food and Drug Administration regulations, which declare nicotine an addictive drug, advance a White House political strategy to highlight the president's tough-love campaign against teen smoking and the reluctance of Republican rival Bob Dole to address the issue.
Surrounded by teens wearing fire-engine red T-shirts that said, "Tobacco-free kids," Clinton told a Rose Garden audience, "Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man will be out of our children's reach forever."
Dole, stung by his recent questioning of whether nicotine is addictive, didn't address the issue while campaigning Friday. His wife, Elizabeth, called the rules "an election-year gimmick" to distract voters from skyrocketing illegal drug use among teens.
The regulations, which could be tied up in courts for years, would:
- Require all tobacco advertising in magazines read by a significant number of teens to be black-and-white, text-only. That means no more Joe Camel in Rolling Stone or Sports Illustrated.
- Require black-and-white, text-only tobacco billboards, and even those could not be posted within 1,000 feet of schools or playgrounds.
- Ban cigarette brand-name sponsorship of sporting events, teams and race cars, although corporate sponsorship could continue; bar brand-names on products like hats and T-shirts; and prohibit single-cigarette sales, "kiddie packs" and other gimmicks.
- Require photo identification with proof of age for every cigarette sale.
The rules closely resemble Clinton's 1995 proposal. He originally sought a ban on all cigarette vending machines and self-service displays, but the FDA modified the rule to allow them in adults-only locations, like casinos or bars. The FDA also dropped a proposal to forbid tobacco sales by mail, and softened a demand for an industry fund that would finance anti-smoking programs aimed at children.
The regulations do not apply to pipe tobacco or cigars - and Clinton said adult smoking is not targeted. Tobacco industry lawsuits are already pending, and Congress could move to reverse the regulations.
Clinton's announcement did not appear to affect tobacco stocks, which were mixed in late afternoon trading.
The action pits Clinton against the powerful tobacco industry, advertisers, farmers and Southern lawmakers - most notably Democrats who fear the issue will cost them their seats.
R.J. Reynolds tobacco company said Washington already spends millions of dollars to oversee or control the tobacco industry. "It is questionable whether adding the federal Food and Drug Administration will make the federal government more effective or more efficient," a company statement said.
Daniel Jaffee of the Association of National Advertisers, which filed suit after Clinton announced his plans last year, said the regulations will not survive a constitutional challenge - and would not be effective anyhow.
"Parents have to take responsibility to do what they can to see that their kids don't smoke," Jaffee said.
Democratic North Carolina Gov. Jim Hunt said he may file a lawsuit on behalf of the state to block FDA regulation of tobacco, which he called "inappropriate or illegal."
In Fuquay-Varina, N.C., residents expressed concern about Clinton's announcement.
"He's talking about helping the middle-class, and just about all the tobacco farmers and people who work in tobacco are in the middle-class," said Richard Currin, the owner of Fuquay Tobacco Contractors.
And Democratic lawmakers from tobacco states said the regulations are political poison. Rep. Scotty Baesler of Kentucky recently said of Clinton's rules: "He wants to ram (them) down Kentucky's throat."
Clinton aides feared some Democrats would skip next week's Democratic National Convention in Chicago out of protest.
"It's probably a net plus for Clinton, but it will cost him some (Southern) electoral votes if the race is close," predicted Larry Sabato, a University of Virginia political science professor.
Armed with polls showing widespread popular support for the crackdown, Clinton is gambling that he will win more votes on the East and West coasts - where pollsters say the stand is popular - than he will lose in tobacco states. Calling teen-age smoking a national health disgrace, Clinton said, "The epidemic is no accident."
"Children are bombarded daily by massive marketing campaigns that play on their vulnerabilities, their insecurities, their longing to be something in the world," he said.
Clinton, who occasionally chews on cigars, began the anti-smoking campaign last year to bolster his "family values" portfolio. But his senior advisers were still surprised how popular the campaign has become - particularly among women.
The president cast his decision as a response to one of the nation's largest public health hazards: Smoking by teens.
"Today we are taking direct action to protect our children from tobacco - and especially the advertising that hooks children on a product," Clinton said.
Vice President Al Gore, whose sister, Nancy Hunger, died of lung cancer, said, "To those who market these products in ways that encourage our children to light up, today we say lights out."
In a voice choked with emotion, Linda Crawford, wife of a former tobacco lobbyist who died of lung cancer, remembered her husband breaking down in tears after Clinton announced his proposal last year.
"He cried because he knew this was going to be a long battle and he would not be alive to see it to the end," Crawford said.
Dole drew criticism earlier this year when he said of smoking: "We know it's not good for kids. But a lot of other things aren't good. Drinking is not good. Some would say milk's not good."
Dole also has received more contributions from tobacco interests than Clinton.
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