On January 1, a California law took effect to outlaw cigarette smoking in California bars, casinos, and nightclubs. The purpose of the law is to protect employees from second hand smoke. Bar owners argue its principal effect has been to dent the profits of many of these establishments. Under the law, a bar owner can be fined up to $7,000 for endangering the health of employees by repeatedly allowing people to smoke in the establishment. Customers can be fined for refusing to put out a cigarette (Don Terry, "California's Ban To Clear Smoke Inside Most Bars," New York Times, December 31, 1997, p. A1).
Smokers and bar owners contend that the new law is unenforceable, and if it is successfully enforced, would harm bar profits. Only a month after the law went into effect, people all over California were lighting up in bars. Some bar owners refused to stop them, fearing a loss in business. Many saw a precipitous decline in sales , as much as 25%, since the law took effect (Thomas D. Elias, "Smoke Signals Defiant Mood In California Taverns," Washington Times, February 2, 1998, p. A3; Jeff Leeds, "Despite Ban, Bar Patrons Continue to Light Up," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 15, 1998, p. B3; Don Terry, "Barstool Rebels Defy California's Ban on Smoking," New York Times, January 3, 1998, p. A1)
The refusal by many bar owners to obey the law caused the state assembly to vote to suspend the bar-smoking ban for two years on January 28. The bill (AB 297), proposed by Assemblyman Ed Vincent (D-Inglewood), now goes to the California Senate. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore John Burton (D-San Francisco) said the bill will face a struggle. Burton, a former smoker, opposes the repeal measure. The California senate is not expected to vote on the bill for several months (Carl Ingram, "Smoking Measure Goes to State Senate Panels," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 12, 1998, p. B4; Karima Haynes and Patrick Kerkstra, "State Smoking Ban May Spell Trouble," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 2, 1998, p. B1; ; Max Vanz and Carl Ingram, "Lifting Smoking Ban Faces Tough Fight," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 30, 1998, p. A1).
California Governor Pete Wilson launched an anti-tobacco campaign on March 3 aimed at teenagers. In part of the campaign, one billboard ad satirizes the "Marlboro Man" ads, a favorite of teenage smokers, with one man on horseback confessing to another that he misses his lung (John M. Glionna, "State Unveils Anti-Smoking Billboards, TV Spot," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), March 3, 1998, p. B1).
CA State Assemblyman Ed Vincent, California State Capitol, P.O. Box 942849, Sacramento CA 942849, Tel: (916) 319-2051.
CA State Senator John Burton, State Capitol, Room 205, Sacramento,
CA 95814, Tel: (916) 445-1412
The New Jersey Legislature voted on December 18 to double the tax on tobacco products. New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) signed the bill into law after pushing for the tax increase for several years. Proceeds will provide the main funding for a new $2.7 billion program to aid hospitals and help the poor pay for health insurance. Lawmakers predict that the new tax will add $200 million a year to state coffers. New Jersey is the tenth state to increase the cigarette tax in the past year ("A Costly New Year for Smokers," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 1, 1998, p. B3; Abby Goodnough, "New Jersey Legislature Votes to Double State Cigarette Tax," New York Times, December 19, 1997, p. B1; Abby Goodnough, "Doubling of Cigarette Tax Grows Near in New Jersey," New York Times, December 17, 1997, p. B5).
Opponents said the new tax will cause a black market for cigarettes in New Jersey. "This is going to turn the smokers of New Jersey into criminals. Are we now going to tax people as a means of controlling their behavior?" said John Sheridan, the director of the New Jersey Citizens for Tax Reform.
Gov. Christine Whitman - Office of the Governor, State House, Trenton, N.J. 08625, Tel: (609) 292-6000.
John Sheridan, N.J. Citizens for Tax Reform - (732) 560-8482.
America's cigarette companies want Congress to approve a nationwide settlement of claims against them that would give them "limited protection" against future lawsuits in return for paying $368.5 billion over 25 years in damages. Under the proposed settlement tobacco companies would have to eliminate youth-oriented ads, accept FDA regulation of tobacco, and pay for tobacco-prevention campaigns (David Rosenbaum, "Clinton Could Abide Protection for Cigarette Makers," New York Times, February 6, 1998, p. A16; Alison Mitchell, "Clinton's Initiatives in New Budget Linked to Tobacco Settlement," Houston Chronicle, February 2, 1998, p. 2A; Myron Levin and Alissa Rubin, "Cigarette Execs Get Cool Reception at House Hearing," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), January 30, 1998, p. B5; Dick Polman, "Big Tobacco on Defensive, Its Deal Grows Vulnerable," Philadelphia Inquirer, January 19, 1998, p. A1; David Rosenbaum, "Tighter Tobacco Controls Are Sought by President," New York Times, January 16, 1998, p. A22; Barry Meier, "Big Tobacco on the Line in Congress, New York Times, January 5, 1998, p. D8).
David Kessler, M.D., former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General, held a press conference on February 17 calling on Congress to enact policies that are aimed solely at improving public health and not to achieve unnecessary concessions for tobacco companies (David Rosenbaum, "Health Experts Oppose Legal Protection for Tobacco Indutsry," New York Times, February 18, 1998, p. A17).
In light of new evidence that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. lied under oath at a Congressional hearing about targeting teens, Congress appears reluctant to ratify the agreement which many feel would be too lenient on tobacco companies. Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND) introduced a bill on February 11 that would be less conciliatory to the tobacco industry. It would deny immunity for the companies from further lawsuits while raising the price of cigarettes by $1.50 over three years. President Clinton supports the measure. Tobacco companies threaten that if Sen. Conrad's proposal passes, they will no longer voluntarily limit their advertising campaigns (Bennett Roth, "Tobacco Leaders Won't Curb Ads Without Protection from Lawsuits," Houston Chronicle, February 25, 1998, p. 4A; Alissa Rubin, "Far-Reaching Tobacco Control Legislation Picks Up Steam," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 11, 1998, p. A5).
The move for federal legislation on the tobacco issue began last June when the tobacco companies reached an agreement with 40 state attorneys general to pay billions to the states in return for protection from future lawsuits. Congress must vote on the issue because Article I, Section 10 of the Constitution forbids the States from entering "into any Agreement or Compact" without the consent of Congress (Alissa J. Rubin, "Senate Panels Push Ahead on Tobacco Legislation," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), February 25, 1998, p. A5).
Federal officials are increasing pressure on tobacco retailers and teenagers in their intensified advertising campaign in several states. The $7 million effort urges consumers to cooperate with the federal law that requires retailers to check photo identification of anyone under 27 years old and to refuse to sell tobacco products to those under 18. The minimum fine for retailers who violate the law is $250. A newly released University of San Diego study attributed to tobacco advertisements the smoking habits of one-third of the 1,752 adolescent smokers who participated in the study (Bennett Roth, "Feds' Advertising Blitz Warns Retailers to Keep Tobacco From Minors," Houston Chronicle, February 28, 1998, p. 12A; Reuters, "Tobacco Ads More Powerful Than Peer Pressure, Study Says," Rocky Mountain News, February 18, 1998, p. 32A).
Senator Kent Conrad - 530 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, Tel: (202) 224-2043.
David Kessler, MD - Yale University School of Medicine, Office of the Dean, 333 Cedar St., New Haven, CT 06520, Tel: (203) 785-4672.
C. Everett Koop, MD - 6707 Democracy Blvd., Bethesda, MD 20817, Tel: (301) 493-6603.