Clinton Set to Sign New Tobacco Rules

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Bill Clinton is scheduled on Friday to sign an executive order putting into effect his administration's long-awaited proposal to regulate tobacco products to curb underage smoking, the White House has announced.

The action, which would give broad new powers to the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco sales and advertising to minors, could be delayed because the Office of Management and Budget is still analyzing the final proposal, presidential spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters. He said no announcement could occur before that process was completed.

Administration officials said the FDA's final recommendation closely resembles the proposal Clinton unveiled a year ago. McCurry said the final proposal does differ modestly from the original regulatory plan. Last August, Clinton urged regulations that would limit tobacco advertisements, ban vending machine sales and require tobacco companies to pay for an education campaign against underage smoking.

McCurry said Clinton strongly favors some form of tobacco regulation to prevent another generation of addicted smokers. "His intent all along has been to promulgate a rule that would accomplish the health policy objectives he outlined," McCurry said.

In Clinton's new book, "Between Hope and History," the president writes, "The tobacco industry has no right to peddle cigarettes to children or encourage them directly or indirectly to smoke. It is immoral."

By signing the executive order, Clinton will officially accept the FDA regulations, which would begin to put the proposals into effect.

Response from the tobacco industry and its allies was swift. "The president is in effect declaring war on 76,000 North Carolinians who gain their livelihood in one form or another from tobacco," said Senator Jesse Helms, of North Carolina.

"Their proposals are ineffective and illegal," said Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute. "Ineffective, in that what FDA proposed to reduce youth smoking won't work. Illegal in that this is an agency that does not have jurisdiction over the product."

When the administration first considered taking on the politically powerful tobacco industry, many saw it as an election risk, especially in tobacco-growing states. But the proposals have proved popular, and administration strategists believe they amplify one of the president's main campaign messages: that Clinton is willing to use the powers of the executive branch to protect children.

That could set up a contrast with Republican candidate Bob Dole, who last month drew a torrent of negative publicity when he questioned whether nicotine is addictive. Repeated polls have shown smokers and nonsmokers alike approve of some government plans to restrict youth access to tobacco.

McCurry stressed Wednesday that all of the regulatory proposals are aimed at reducing underage smoking, and said "for adult users" the regulatory package would have "no practical effect."