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Bob Dole was apparently trying to avoid antagonizing the tobacco industry a couple of weeks ago when he implied that smoking wasn't all that bad, and that adult Americans ought to be able to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves on such things as whether to smoke.

But his widely reported remarks, and then the follow-up "clarifications," gave Democrats a big opportunity. They touted their "solutions" to underage smoking-including a broad new round of government restrictions on tobacco advertising-as being in stark contrast to the Dole position. And this in turn has given new life to the anti-tobacco-ad crowd; they had been discouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the just-ended term (44 Liquormart vs Rhode Island) that made government-imposed ad bans tougher to justify.

The Clinton campaign team has revived the tobacco issue in a big way. Their plan to turn tobacco regulation over to the Food & Drug Administration (by calling cigarettes a "nicotine delivery system") was no doubt one the President planned to brag about anyway. But Mr. Dole's inept remarks while trying to ingratiate himself to voters in tobacco states has raised the ante.

A person in a Butt Man suit shows up at Dole campaign stops to keep the issue alive. Each side chides the other for accepting contributions from the tobacco industry. And the issue became fodder in the campaign ad wars in a new Clinton commercial this month that hails the President for seeking to "stop ads that teach our children to smoke" while asking viewers to judge whether it is Clinton or Dole who is "really protecting our children."

So now the issue of how to curtail teenage smoking, which might have produced a compromise that would not violate the First Amendment, becomes a front-burner campaign issue. It's no longer what's good for teenagers, it's what's good for the presidential campaign. And if sweeping proposals are made affecting advertising-proposals that are almost certain to be shot down by the courts after lengthy and costly litigation, so what? As long as it helps in November.

Mr. Dole, please don't say anything nice about Seagram advertising liquor on television.

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