Youths' Use of Tobacco, Alcohol, Drugs Prompts Policy Debates
The Clinton Administration, members of Congress, and two government-funded studies have focused scrutiny in recent weeks on corporate America's influence on children's use of tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs.
Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C., and Rep. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pitched a plan to President Clinton last week for a "memorandum of understanding," between the President and tobacco companies, calling on those companies to provide at least $100 million a year to help enforce laws against selling tobacco to minors. They would also agree to stop using advertising that might appeal to children.
Meanwhile, Commissioner David A. Kessler of the Food and Drug Administration argued in an article in the July 20 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine for regulatory action to reduce minors' access to tobacco and combat the "powerful imagery in tobacco advertising and promotion that encourages young people to begin using tobacco products."
Mr. Wyden agreed to join Mr. Rose, a tobacco-state supporter of that industry, in presenting the voluntary plan because he "would like to get something significant done now," said Josh Kardon, Mr. Wyden's chief of staff. Attempting to regulate tobacco as a drug, as Dr. Kessler advocates, could result in a long legal and political fight, Mr. Kardon said.
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., has been quoted as saying Dr. Kessler had to be "out of his mind" to suggest regulating tobacco.
A White House spokeswoman said last week that it is "too soon to say" what actions the President might take, but she said the issue was of "grave concern" to him.
Two studies released last month document an increase in smoking among youngsters in recent years.
Tobacco data from the University of Michigan's annual Monitoring the Future survey, released July 20, found that 30 percent more 8th graders were smoking in 1994 than were three years before. The incidence of smoking has also continued to climb over that period among 10th graders and seniors, said the study, which is financed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
And the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in the July 21 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that the rate at which adolescents took up smoking declined in the early 1980's but rose 5.5 percent from 1984 to 1989, the most recent year studied.
Both studies also laid some blame for the rising number of teenage smokers on aggressive marketing by tobacco companies.
In an apparent attempt to counter mounting criticism of its industry, Philip Morris U.S.A., the world's top seller of cigarettes, took out ads in daily newspapers on July 18 announcing that it had created a program "to prevent cigarette sales to minors."
Philip Morris said it would no longer give out free samples or distribute cigarettes through the mail. The company also said it would curb the use of its brand names or logos on items, such as video games, that are marketed to minors and would seek state legislation to bar minors from buying cigarettes from vending machines.
But the company came under intense criticism last week, when Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., took to the House floor to read from documents about smoking-related research he said was conducted by Philip Morris from 1969 to 1980, including a study on whether hyperactive children were likely to become smokers.
"These documents make it crystal clear that we need regulation of tobacco to protect our children," Mr. Waxman said.
Philip Morris said last week it had not seen the studies but added that it has always said it studied why people smoke. Last month, the company said that the F.D.A. had no authority to regulate cigarettes and declined to comment further on possible action by the Administration.
Lee P. Brown, the director of the White House office of national drug control policy, also jumped into the fray last month.
Citing data showing an increase in marijuana use among young people, Mr. Brown spoke out about the dangers of smoking increasingly potent marijuana.
In another speech, he criticized corporations for marketing T-shirts, posters, drink bottles, and playing cards that he said glamorize the use of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs.
And in two news conferences a week apart, Mr. Brown lambasted companies that produce soft drinks, chewing gum, or other products in containers that mimic alcohol or tobacco packaging.
At one of those events, officials of the Royal Crown Cola Company announced that the company would change the label on its new "draft premium cola." The word "draft" is now the largest word on the label, perhaps prompting an identification with draft beer.