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Cancer Group Gives Nod to Tobacco Pact

TIMES LEGAL AFFAIRS WRITER

The American Cancer Society on Monday preliminarily gave its blessing to a proposed settlement of tobacco litigation--a move quickly hailed by Mississippi Atty. Gen. Mike Moore, lead negotiator for 34 state attorneys general who have filed massive lawsuits against the cigarette companies.

“We are encouraged by the proposals we have heard so far and we urge the attorneys general to bring forward a complete plan so that a full public health evaluation can be conducted,” society Chairman George Dessart said.

While emphasizing that it is not endorsing any settlement language until it is able to review all the terms, the cancer society said the talks “appear to have produced substantive elements with the potential for controlling tobacco industry activities and creating an environment that protects future generations from tobacco-related disease.”

Myles Cunningham, the organization’s president, added, “A settlement that embraces our goals in public health has the opportunity for benefiting our mission in cancer control now, rather than waiting for the uncertain result of many years of continued litigation.”

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“This is great news,” said Moore, who is here to resume negotiations with tobacco industry representatives on a deal that would require congressional approval.

Moore needs the broad support of the public health community if a settlement is going to get through Congress. He has said repeatedly in recent weeks that he needs to consummate a settlement quickly because his state’s case against the industry is scheduled to go to trial July 7.

Although Moore is pushing for a speedy conclusion, others are urging a more deliberate pace.

Two of the nation’s leading anti-tobacco advocates, David Kessler and C. Everett Koop, are expected to deliver a letter to White House today asking President Clinton not to take a position on any settlement until a special advisory panel on tobacco policy and public health that they co-chair finishes its work, sources said.

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In a draft of the letter, Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and Koop, the former surgeon general, pledge that the task force’s work will be finished in 30 days.

The task force--convened at the behest of anti-tobacco lawmakers who have expressed fears that the settlement will not be tough enough on the industry--has set up five working groups and has scheduled another meeting for June 18.

Meanwhile, negotiators for the two sides worked Monday on some of the remaining major issues, according to sources close to the talks.

Still to be resolved are how much control the FDA would have over the $50-billion industry, whether there will be a bar on punitive damages in future lawsuits against the industry, how large a multibillion-dollar settlement fund would be, and how much the industry would have to disclose about its internal research files on smoking’s impact on health.

Several lawyers close to the negotiations said a deal could be struck by Thursday. Nonetheless, late in the day, Trey Bobinger, Moore’s chief aide, said a planned conference call among all the suing attorneys scheduled for today had been postponed until Wednesday because the negotiators have more work to do.

Thus far, the industry has tentatively agreed to a variety of marketing restrictions, including larger and considerably more potent warning labels on the top of cigarette packages, according to negotiators who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Among the proposed warning labels: “Smoking kills,” “Cigarettes are addictive,” “Tobacco smoke can harm your children,” “Cigarettes cause strokes and heart disease” and “Smoking during pregnancy can harm your baby.”

The settlement would give the FDA the authority to regulate nicotine as an addictive drug, something the industry has fought for years. A federal judge in North Carolina ruled in April that the agency has such authority, but industry lawyers said they would appeal the decision.

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The precise wording of the nicotine-control part of the settlement has been the subject of considerable haggling, with the industry strenuously pushing for terms that would make it impossible for nicotine to be banned during the next decade.

No final agreement has been reached on the amount of the settlements, either, but the two sides have been discussing a $10-billion upfront payment and a total pot in the range of $350 billion.


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