In a Rose Garden ceremony designed to attract maximum propaganda value from his offensive, Mr Clinton formally accepted the verdict of the federal Food and Drug Administration that nicotine is an addictive drug. He also announced a panoply of measures to curb teenage smoking, as recommended by the FDA in its 1995 report on tobacco and smoking.
Under the new regulations, the first of which will take effect in six months time, cigarette advertising near schools and on products such as hats and T-shirts not directly related to tobacco will be forbidden. The companies will be barred from brand-name advertising at sporting events, and limited to black-and-white text-only advertisements in magazines read by children and teenagers.
In addition, the companies will have to set up a $150m educational programme to deter under-age smoking. There are only two departures from the 1995 proposals: a ban on mail-order cigarette purchases will be dropped and cigarette vending machines will still be permitted in places such as bars where children are not allowed.
The steps amount to perhaps the biggest-ever clampdown on smoking by the federal government. And even before their promulgation, the tobacco companies denounced them as "illegal and ineffective", vowing to overturn them in the courts.
But their most immediate impact will be on the election campaign as the White House seeks to cash in on this summer's gaffe by Mr Dole when he suggested that smoking might not neccessarily be addictive.
Yesterday the Dole campaign sought to present the Clinton initiative as cheap politics, and an effort to distract attention from an embarrassing government report that drug among teenagers had risen sharply since he took office in 1993. "This is an election year gimmick," Elizabeth Dole, the candidate's wife, said during a campaign trip to her native (and tobacco- producing) state of North Carolina, "Bob Dole has always said children should not smoke."
But that will not affect political calculations at the White House. While yesterday's moves will cost the President votes in the tobacco states (predominantly Republican in any case), polls suggest that they will enhance his support elsewhere by far more.
For the tobacco companies the one scant consolation is that their annual $6bn advertising budgets will perforce be trimmed by $600m. But Oklahoma yesterday became the 14th state to seek billions of dollars in repayment from the industry for treating smoking-related illnesses, while an Indiana jury is deliberating another high-profile damages suit brought by the widow of a former smoker.
The FDA's goal is to cut teenage smoking by half in seven years. Nine out of ten smokers start before they are 18. Eliminate this market, industry opponents say, and ultimately you will virtually eliminate smoking.
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