Clinton hits trouble with smoking bill

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The Independent Online
A UNITED States initiative to prevent teenage smoking by hiking prices and restricting sales has hit obstacles, prompting President Bill Clinton to make a high-profile appearance to boost its chances.

The President pleaded with Congress not to miss a "historic" opportunity to tackle tobacco. He was joined by Olympic skater Tara Lipinski, who led a rally of hundreds of youngsters on the White House south lawn. The message was intended to be clear: if anyone stops this deal, they are hurting children.

The US Senate is debating a bill that would increase the price of a pack of cigarettes by $1.10, up from an average price of about $2, force tobacco companies to make public their research, restrict advertising, allow the government to regulate nicotine as a drug, and levy fines of up to $3.5bn (pounds 2.2bn) a year on the industry if youth smoking does not drop sufficiently. As a quid pro quo, it would also cap the amount of damages which tobacco companies would be forced to pay at $6.5bn. The bill would cost tobacco companies about $520bn over 25 years.

Few senators want to appear opposed to the legislation. Yet many have concerns, which are complicating the fight to get a bill passed before Congress goes into recess at the end of this week. The first fights have erupted over potential beneficiaries: lawyers. One estimate says lawyers could make $4bn a year from settling lawsuits under the deal, and the Republicans want a cap on their cash.

"There's just so much wrong with this bill, there isn't enough time to fix it this week," said its chief opponent, Don Nickles, a Republican of Oklahoma.