By Nancy Zuckerbrod
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON - Anti-smoking advocates are bemoaning what they consider a lost opportunity when lawmakers this week agreed on a $10 billion payout for tobacco farmers without also imposing new regulations on the industry.
Now, these advocates say, the tobacco industry will continue marketing cigarettes to children and making unsubstantiated claims about new products.
"We're extremely disappointed," said Wendy Selig, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society. "Congress has missed this huge opportunity to do the right thing."
Most tobacco companies opposed an effort in the Senate to link the tobacco farmer aid, which was added to a corporate tax bill, and a plan to give the Food and Drug Administration oversight of the sale, manufacturing and marketing of tobacco products.
Steve Watson, a spokesman for Lorillard Tobacco Co., said the agency's authority was too broad and that the advertising restrictions would made it impossible for new brands or products to become popular with smokers.
He contended that only industry leader Philip Morris would benefit because it already has such solid name recognition with its Marlboro brand.
"Marlboro's going to have to get its monopoly the old fashion way," Watson said. "They're going to have to earn it as opposed to having the government give it to them."
Philip Morris lobbyist John Scruggs denied his company was looking to shore up its role as the market leader. He said one reason his company pushed for the FDA legislation was because it wants clear guidelines on how to communicate with consumers about products under development that may lower the risk of smoking-related diseases.
Scruggs said the prospect of getting that federal guidance now appears dim.
"We think the magnitude of the missed opportunity is hard to overstate," Scruggs said. "I think it's pretty clear that it's going to be exceptionally difficult to get FDA done without a buyout."
An unlikely coalition of tobacco farmers and health advocates put aside their differences about five years ago to work for passage of legislation that would help the farmers and impose new regulations on the industry.
The farmer buyout will end the Depression-era federal tobacco program, which sets price and production controls on U.S. leaf. Farmers say the program keeps U.S. leaf prices too high to be competitive. The farmers will get money in exchange for giving up federal allotments dictating how much leaf they can sell each year.
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