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Legislators from tobacco states, moving to parry the thrust of new ad limits sought by the Clinton administration, are ready to propose their own restrictions.

Congressional and advertising sources say, however, that the limits to be proposed in a bill due to be introduced this week by Senate Minority Whip Wendell Ford (D., Ky.) are far less restrictive that those sought by President Clinton and Food & Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler.

Regarding curbs on magazine ads, the issue comes down to readership vs. subscribers.

Where the president and Dr. Kessler want to limit ads to text-only b&w executions in any publication with more than 15% readership by those under age 18, Sen. Ford's plan would ban tobacco advertising entirely in titles with more than 15% of subscribers under 18.

It's uncertain how many magazines that would be, since publishers don't request ages when taking subscriptions. Sports Illustrated and Spin, two titles with large youthful readerships, said their studies indicate they wouldn't be affected.

Critics suggested very few magazines would be affected.

"What does it cover, Boys' Life?" asked Scott Ballin, chairman of the Coalition on Smoking OR Health.

John Banzhaf, executive director of Action on Smoking & Health, called the congressional reaction "too little too late."

"It doesn't address the limitations on sales, requiring carding, and it does not address the promotion money that greatly outweighs ad budgets," he said.

Advertising groups, while not wishing to comment too much before the bill was introduced, expressed concern that both sides were proposing ad bans.

Sen. Ford wouldn't comment, but sources said his bill would ban outdoor tobacco signs within 500 feet of a school (the president had proposed 1,000 feet) but make exceptions for signs facing away from a school and toward an interstate highway. It also wouldn't touch point-of-purchase signs near a school.

In a bill already introduced, U.S. Rep. David Funderburk (R., N.C.) is seeking to bar any regulation of tobacco promotion in car races. The Motor Sports Protection Act would prohibit the FDA from banning use of tobacco brand names on race car event sponsorships and on clothing and paraphernalia distributed at those events.

Rep. Lewis F. Payne (D., Va.) is seeking to bar any FDA regulation of tobacco. "Unable to achieve victory in the halls of Congress, tobacco's opponents are now relying on the administrative powers of this executive branch..... ," Rep. Payne said in congressional remarks.

Meanwhile, both sides in the smoking controversy moved to deluge the president and the FDA with letters during the 90-day comment period that followed the FDA's proposal of regulations.

Action on Smoking & Health offered personalized "certificates of appreciation" and $3,000 in prizes for children's letters in favor of the Clinton proposal.

The group is also urging teachers, parents and PTA organizations to write the letters as a class project.

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