Koop, Kessler blast Congress on tobacco

By Joanne Kenen, Reuters
Copyright 1998 Reuters News Service
September 8, 1998

WASHINGTON (September 8, 1998 6:31 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Leading anti-smoking advocates C. Everett Koop and David Kessler blasted Congress Tuesday for caving in to Big Tobacco, with Koop saying he now has "a certain shame" about being a Republican.

Koop, the former U.S. Surgeon General, and Kessler, the former Food and Drug commissioner who is now dean of Yale Medical School, said in an appearance at the National Press Club that they did not regret opposing the deal negotiated last year by the tobacco companies and the states suing them.

Neither saw the failure of that deal as a squandered opportunity, and both said the deal had so many loopholes and concessions to the industry that in the long run it would have been regarded as a colossal public health mistake.

The Senate this year spent weeks debating a tough tobacco bill drafted by Arizona Rep. John McCain. The tobacco industry in a costly advertising barrage depicted the McCain bill as a tax hike masquerading as a health measure, and a minority of Senate conservatives killed it on a technicality in June.

The House pledged to come up with a narrower bill targeted at teen smoking, but it never got beyond a vague statement of principles. Congress now seems certain to adjourn for the year having passed no legislation on tobacco.

Meanwhile, the once beleaguered tobacco industry has scored a series of victories in court. Several states are negotiating settlements that would represent lesser victories against the tobacco companies than last year's settlement proposal.

Kessler and Koop had harsh words for the Republican-controlled Congress for failing to pass legislation that would have improved upon the industry-approved deal.

Referring to the Monica Lewinsky scandal engulfing the presidency, Koop said he did not understand why there was more outrage over a stained dress than over "a malignant industry" that addicts teens to a lethal product.

"Where is the outrage?" Koop repeatedly said. "This is a scandal of politicians for sale and, to my dismay, some Republicans going for the highest bidder."

Koop said that if his fellow Republicans were genuinely pro-life, pro-children, and pro-family, they would have enacted a tough tobacco bill. He said he was still a Republican but added, "I have to admit a certain shame."

Kessler said Congress was unlikely to enact comprehensive legislation in the near future, but he predicted that "one day" a Senate Majority Leader or a Speaker of the House would look in the mirror and conclude "enough is enough."

"I'm not holding my breath, but it will happen," said Kessler. Tobacco companies may be able to buy influence in the short run, he said, "but they can't buy the facts or the science."

Tobacco industry spokesman Scott Williams blamed the public health advocates for reaching too far, instead of accepting the concessions the industry was willing to make.

"Those two people are standing on the wreckage they created," he said of Koop and Kessler, "and pointing at others and saying, 'They did it."'

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