Clinton Welcomes Philip Morris Stance on FDA Role
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Clinton on Tuesday welcomed the acceptance by the nation's largest tobacco company, Philip Morris Cos. Inc., that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could regulate tobacco in the future.
``I am heartened today by news reports that the nation's leading cigarette maker is now willing to accept government regulation of tobacco,'' Clinton told reporters at a briefing on the White House lawn.
``If Philip Morris is ready to support the FDA provisions of the tobacco bill the industry and the congressional leadership killed just two years ago, that is an important step forward,'' Clinton added.
The major shift by Philip Morris, which makes such well-known brands as Marlboro, and had steadfastly rejected any FDA regulation, was first disclosed in a Washington Post interview on Tuesday.
The newspaper quoted Senior Vice President Steven Parrish as saying that Philip Morris was willing to allow the agency to regulate tobacco products, pending negotiations on details.
``I could see at some point in the future an appropriate way to regulate tobacco products,'' Parrish told the Post.
The tobacco industry agreed in the past to some federal regulation in exchange for settling an onslaught of lawsuits by states seeking to recover the costs of treating sick smokers.
But that offer was never put into effect because federal tobacco legislation aimed at implementing it failed in a bitter fight in the Senate two years ago.
Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts told Reuters the company would like to begin talks on what form that regulation should take after the Supreme Court rules on the issue of FDA regulating tobacco. She said the company now wants to discuss regulation regardless of the court's decision.
``We are looking for a discussion on the issue of regulation and we think that is appropriate at the time when the Supreme Court rules on the FDA case that is before it,'' Roberts told Reuters. ``Whether we win or lose, we would like to see, and are eager to be part of, a discussion of what the reasonable regulation of cigarettes might be.''
The issue was revived amid a major effort by Philip Morris to rehabilitate its public image after recent revelations that the tobacco industry knew much more about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking than previously acknowledged.
Roberts said ``it is reasonable to discuss'' issues such as, the manufacturing process and ingredients in cigarettes, disclosure to consumers on health risk, tar and nicotine content as well as issues related to children smoking.
She also said Philip Morris would like to discuss what would be an acceptable safer cigarette, so that the company could start to develop less-harmful products in the future.
Meanwhile, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation that would require larger and more graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. It would also require that cigarette ingredients and health effects be listed.
``Our cigarette warning labels are an international embarrassment,'' New Jersey Democrat Sen. Frank Lautenberg said. ''Adults have the right to know what is in the cigarettes they smoke, and kids need to see bold, clear warning labels on the front of each pack that instantly send one simple but very important message: Smoking can kill you.''
Said Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar: ``Bigger and better labeling may not radically change behavior but if we want to encourage good health we can start by better displaying the truth.''
Canada last month announced its own plan to require more graphic labels that warn of risks ranging from lung cancer to impotence.