House Panel Rejects Stiff Curbs on Content of Ads for Cigarettes


Responding to intense opposition by tobacco and advertising interests, a key congressional subcommittee voted Tuesday to kill proposals by anti-smoking advocates to impose sweeping new restrictions on cigarette promotional campaigns.

However, the panel approved a measure that would dramatically increase the prominence of warning labels on cigarette packages and billboards, ban sales to minors nationwide and restrict sales from vending machines and distribution of free samples.

But proponents said it appeared unlikely that further action would be taken on the bill this year unless Congress reconvenes after the November election. The poor prospects reflect a failed behind-the-scenes effort to reach a compromise between the $40-billion-a-year tobacco industry and its congressional foes.

After an often-acrimonious debate, the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment voted 13 to 9 to quash a proposal to bar the use of human or cartoon figures in cigarette advertising. The measure would have allowed only "tombstone" ads--written text with no illustration other than a picture of the cigarette brand.

That was the most far-reaching provision of the Tobacco Control and Health Protection Act of 1990, a compendium of anti-smoking measures sponsored by Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), the subcommittee chairman. The provisions are intended to halt the marketing and sale of cigarettes to young people, 3,000 of whom begin smoking each day.

Waxman and his allies maintained that limitations should be imposed on the industry's $3-billion annual advertising effort, particularly ads that portray smoking as sexy, sophisticated and linked to success. Opponents, led by Rep. Thomas J. Bliley Jr. (R-Va.), said such curbs would be an unconstitutional infringement of free speech.

The tobacco industry was joined by advertisers, billboard companies and newspaper and magazine publishers in lobbying to bury the "tombstone" proposal.

Waxman's entire bill, in fact, was rejected Tuesday in favor of a measure introduced by Rep. Bob Whittaker (R-Kan.), another anti-smoking leader, as a compromise. In addition to deleting the "tombstone" restriction, Whittaker's alternative dropped a proposed ban on tobacco company sponsorship of sporting events and public entertainment.

The new measure would require that warning labels cover an entire side of a cigarette package, double the current size of warnings on billboards, prohibit sales from vending machines accessible to minors without adult supervision and ban distribution of free samples on streets, sidewalks, public parks or through the mail.

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