HOUSE SOFTENS TOBACCO-CURBS PLAN: REPUBLICAN PROPOSAL MEANS LIMITS ON MARKETING POSTPONED UNTIL '99

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The chance of significant marketing curbs against tobacco products anytime soon seemed to end last week with the announcement of a House Republican plan that mostly proposes an anti-tobacco ad campaign.

It's now clear that none of the previously proposed curbs on cigarette ads will take effect this year, and probably not until late next year at the earliest.

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R., Ohio), leader of the House Republican tobacco task force, in unveiling a "framework" whose specifics will be disclosed after Congress returns from the Fourth of July holiday recess, portrayed the package as an attack on the stated aim of tobacco critics -- underage smoking.

COMMON SENSE

"This is strong common sense legislation to help kids," she said. "Our goal is to reduce teen smoking without increasing taxes on millions of Americans."

The House Republicans propose giving White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Barry McCaffrey money for a major anti-tobacco ad campaign; giving the Food & Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco product manufacturing; giving the Federal Trade Commission some additional authority to regulate tobacco ads; and creating a model state law to take away the driver's licenses of minors caught with tobacco.

Rep. Pryce offered few specifics, and she said some of the tobacco ad money might come from the $175 million in annual anti-drug advertising money already going to Mr. McCaffrey's office.

Another possibility is limiting the attorney fees that states can pay for tobacco cases and then requiring states that settle cases to pay 1% or 2% for anti-tobacco ads, she said.

Democrats and health groups were quick to jump on the proposal. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.) called it "empty."

TOBACCO ADS STILL RUNNING

Despite the decision, major tobacco companies are continuing to run ads opposing tobacco legislation, apparently in an attempt to counter expected use of the issue in fall political campaigns.

"The Christmas tax tree fell over in Washington because hard-working Americans sent a message to Congress," said the latest TV ad from Bozell/Eskew, Washington, running in the top 30 or 40 markets.

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