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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Tobacco Opens Regulation Dialogue

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Bill Clinton said Tuesday he was "heartened" by statements from Philip Morris that the company "is now willing to accept government regulation of tobacco."

But he also made clear the continuing divide over that regulation by adding, "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."

While top officials at Philip Morris voiced a desire Monday to discuss possible government regulation, they said Tuesday they had no intention of embracing that bill, which they helped to defeat in 1998. They also said they would not withdraw their Supreme Court challenge to the FDA's 1996 tobacco regulations.

According to Philip Morris spokeswoman Peggy Roberts, the tobacco bill hailed by Clinton "was more radical than the FDA rule now, and we continue to oppose that rule. This is why we need to sit down to get to the basic core ideas of what regulation of cigarettes should accomplish. We want to start over again, because none of those [past proposals] worked."

Roberts said Philip Morris senior vice president Steven Parrish had met recently with congressmen and senators to discuss possible government regulation, but the meetings were "informational" rather than part of any negotiations. "It's not appropriate to be discussing details," she said. "Our primary goal is to be a part of any discussion."

She did say, however, that the general areas of regulation the company might be interested in include "manufacturing processes and ingredients and disclosure guidelines regarding them." She also said Philip Morris was interested in discussing "what to do about Internet sales to kids" and "what a reduced-risk product might look like."

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. spokesman Tommy Payne said his company also "supports discussion of reasonable regulation of the design and manufacture of cigarettes. We think that Congress is the appropriate forum to make that determination."

But Mark Smith, a spokesman for the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., said his company wasn't "interested in seeking any legislative solution right now. We've been down that path before."

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler first proposed regulating tobacco in 1995, and a regulatory rule was imposed a year later. The fate of that rule, which seeks to regulate tobacco as a drug delivery system, is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court this summer.