Gore advocates federal regulation of tobacco
NEW YORK, Mar 22 (Reuters) -- Vice President Al Gore called on Texas Gov. George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress on Tuesday to stand up to ``Big Tobacco'' and push to give the government the right to regulate nicotine as an addictive drug.
Just hours after a divided Supreme Court ruled the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) now lacks such power, Gore said Republicans in Congress and Bush, the Republicans' presidential candidate and new unofficial head, should join Democrats and push to give the agency this authority in order to help stem tobacco addiction and death.
``Today's decision by the Supreme Court puts this issue back in Congress's court,'' Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, told a few hundred people at a Lenox Hill Neighborhood House, a community center in New York City.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential nominee, said Congress should ``pass tough laws to keep tobacco out of the hands of kids similar to strict anti-teen smoking laws... signed in Texas.''
His carefully-drafted written statement did not take a position on whether tobacco should be regulated as a drug. The Texas measures included compelling minors caught smoking to attend education sessions and pay fines; fining retailers up to $1,000 for selling tobacco to minors; prohibiting tobacco vending machines in businesses open to minors; and prohibiting tobacco billboard advertisements within 1,000 feet of schools and churches.
Gore called on the Republican Congress and Bush to ``show their independence from Big Tobacco and do the right thing.''
The tobacco industry has long contributed to both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, but in recent years has favored Republicans. Many Democrats now decline tobacco money.
``Tobacco is one of the most addictive substances known to the human race,'' said Gore, who along with President Bill Clinton bucked Republican leaders in Congress in trying to turn the screws on the industry in recent years with legislation to restrict advertising and increase federal regulation.
Gore said the court ruling means ``Congress has to decide whether or not it (nicotine) is an addictive drug and whether or not our children should be protected from it.''
The vice president added, ``I call upon the Republican leadership of the Congress to... give the FDA the authority to regulate nicotine as an addictive drug, which it is.''
Gore said the 5-4 court ruling helped show the balance of power on the bench, and underscored the influence the next president will have when he could have the opportunity to appoint as many as three new judges.
The vice president, who has labeled Bush as a tool of conservative extremists, also called on the Texas governor to break ranks with his own party and support use of statistical sampling to obtain a more accurate US census.
The census is used to help determine how federal funds are dispersed to states as well as how to reapportion the 435-member House of Representatives every 10 years.
Gore said the Census Bureau estimates its 1990 census missed an estimated 8.4 million people, including 1.5 million Hispanics and one out of every 10 African-American men.
Democrats charge Republicans favor the current census system -- going home to home and counting individual persons -- because those historically missed are minorities who traditionally back Democrats.
Gore said Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson has called on every state party official to fight against statistical sampling methods that Democrats say would ensure a more accurate representation of minorities.
``At stake is our (Republican) majority in the House of Representatives as well as partisan control of state legislatures nationwide,'' Gore quoted Nicholson as writing in a letter quoted by the New York Times on April 12, 1998. Gore said the under counting of minorities costs a number of states, including Bush's Texas, billion of dollars in federal assistance.
``I say to Gov. Bush: If you really believe that every American counts, it's time to stand up to the political operatives in your own party and support a census that counts every American,'' Gore said.
Gore has endorsed statistical sampling as a more accurate measure. Bush has said he favors an actual count.