March 30, 1998
Statement by Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on the Summary of Senate Commerce Committee?s Draft “Mark” of National Tobacco Legislation
The committee draft smells like a warmed-over version of the discredited June 20 deal between the industry and the state attorneys general, with only minor changes in the recipe.
This proposal follows the fatally flawed framework of the June 20 deal. It requires the industry?s consent to become effective. Instead of polishing the industry?s deal, Congress should pass fair, strong, sensible legislation that does not require — or seek — the tobacco industry?s approval. There is a reason why the tobacco companies are spending tens of millions of dollars on lobbyists and advertisements to push for passage of that deal, and it is not because it is good for public health.
While sticking closely to the June deal, the committee?s summary does contain a few revisions, some of which strengthen the national settlement and some that make it worse. For example, the committee?s mark would raise the price of cigarettes $1.10 per pack over 5 years, compared to the deal?s $0.62 increase. The so-called “look-back” penalties for youth smoking are also somewhat higher than under the deal, and would not be tax deductible. However, the “look-back” penalties would be capped at $3.5 billion per year. That means if the industry?s profits from selling tobacco products to minors exceeded the cap, the industry would still benefit from selling tobacco to children, undermining the very purpose of the provisions. In fact, the more the industry profits from selling to kids, the more the companies benefit from the cap.
The most controversial aspect of the tobacco deal — limited liability for the industry — is still being negotiated, but it is clear special protections are being considered. Public Citizen, the American Lung Association, the 350 members of the Save Lives, Not Tobacco coalition, and the vast majority of public health organizations and advocates are all firmly opposed to any liability protections for this industry. The Congress — and the public — should immediately reject any legislation that limits this rogue industry?s liability and takes away the public?s rights as a sweetheart deal for Big Tobacco.