ELECTION STOKES TOBACCO FORCES

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Tobacco marketers cautiously celebrated the results of last week's congressional elections even as they worried about referendum votes in several states.

The topsy-turvy election will replace anti-tobacco activist U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) as chairman of the House Health & Environment Subcommittee with Virginia Republican Thomas Bliley, whose district boasts the tobacco industry as one of its largest employers.

Further, the GOP takeover of Congress may imperil President Clinton's healthcare plan and the proposed cigarette tax hike needed to fund it.

Philip Morris USA VP-Corporate Affairs Ellen Merlo called Rep. Waxman's departure as a committee chairman "good news" but cautioned about making too much of the congressional changes, since so many tobacco issues are handled by regulatory agencies.

Tobacco critics were bolstered when Californians voted 70%-30% to reject a proposition to create state regulations allowing restaurant smoking sections, while barring localities from enacting different rules. The proposition would have superseded a stricter law taking effect Jan. 1 that bans smoking in all restaurants and maybe all bars. Philip Morris and other tobacco companies spent nearly $16 million in trying to pass the issue.

In Arizona, a 40 cents a pack increase in the state cigarette tax was approved by voters in a razor-thin margin. Only in Colorado did voters by a 61%-38% margin defeat a constitutional amendment to raise state cigarette taxes 50 cents.

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