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Federal Judge OK's Tobacco Regulation

'This is on balance a great victory for the fight we have been waging for our children's health,' says Clinton

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AllPolitics, April 25) -- President Bill Clinton is hailing a federal judge's decision giving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco. The ruling does not permit the FDA to dictate the content of the industry's advertising.

In a 65-page ruling, Judge William Osteen rejected the tobacco industry's contention that Congress hadn't given the regulatory agency authority over tobacco.

"This is on balance a great victory for the fight we have been waging for our children's health," said Clinton at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto.

"The fundamental issue was, 'Did the FDA have jurisdiction over tobacco companies?' and they [the judge] said, 'Yes,'" Clinton said. "And since we believe strongly that for young people access equals addiction, the fact that a 'yes' includes the ability of the FDA to deal with access of young people to tobacco is a huge victory."

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"We are very pleased by the court's decision, especially coming as it does out of North Carolina, and we are determined to proceed on this course," Clinton said. "We think it is a great victory for us." (320K wav sound)

Less pleasing to the White House was the court's simultaneous ruling that the FDA lacks the authority to regulate tobacco advertising. Backed by the president, the FDA had also wanted to drastically limit billboard advertising and cigarette displays. Clinton said the government would appeal that part of the ruling.

Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler also applauded the ruling. "This is a historic landmark decision," Kessler said. "For the first time in 30 years the government can take action ... It is an enormous victory for public health."

Regulations requiring a federal age limit for purchase are already in effect, and the judge says they should remain in effect until any appeals are exhausted.

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The judge apparently was convinced by the government's argument that cigarettes containing nicotine are drug-delivery devices and thus come under the broad jurisdiction of the FDA. An attorney with tobacco giant RJR Nabisco says they were pleased that the judge sided with them in the advertising issue, but they will most likely appeal the case.

Mississippi Attorney General Michael Moore called the ruling "a big victory." In a phone interview from Jackson, Moore said the ruling would likely help the settlement talks currently under way among the tobacco industry, plaintiffs' lawyers and attorneys general from 24 states. "I think it'll put us in a better bargaining position all around," Moore said.

CNN's Jeff Levine contributed to this report


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