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LAWMAKER URGES CLINTON TO SHELVE TOBACCO CURBS

A tobacco-state lawmaker says Congress won't allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate cigarettes and is urging President Clinton to abandon his plans to curb teen smoking.

Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C., also accused Clinton on Sunday of being more interested in "making a big political splash" than making good public policy.He was among the guests on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley" who debated the administration's proposals, including bans on vending machines and cigarette brand-name sports sponsorships and severe restrictions on tobacco advertising.

Tobacco companies and advertising interest groups filed lawsuits last week to challenge the measures.

Coming to the administration's defense, FDA Commissioner David Kessler said it wants to reduce the access and appeal of cigarettes to youngsters.

"This isn't about me. It isn't about the FDA. This is the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disability in this country," said Kessler, whose agency has 90 days for public comment on the proposed rules.

Rose suggested that Congress will fight the regulations and urged Clinton to use the 90 days to work out compromise legislation with tobacco interests.

Referring to the Republican election triumphs, Rose said, "If anybody thinks this Congress is about regulating . . . nicotine in cigarettes, they've forgotten what happened last November."

To counter the regulations, Congress could increase GOP budget cuts at FDA, pass laws taking cigarettes out of FDA's jurisdiction or pass a watered-down version of Clinton's plan without giving authority to FDA.

Rose said Clinton can get much of what he wants through compromise legislation that avoids FDA control. Industry groups have said they prefer that tobacco continue to be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.

"I agree with a lot of what the president wants Dr. Kessler to do," Rose said. "I just don't want Dr. Kessler to do it."

He added: "What I want to do now is to sit down with the companies, sit down with the White House, and say, `Let's negotiate in real earnest to put this together as a voluntary effort.' "

The White House doubts that the tobacco industry could be trusted with voluntary compliance, though Clinton left the door open to compromise Thursday.

"It is far better to start right now . . . than to wade through all this litigation" that regulation would bring, Clinton said in announcing his proposals.

Republican presidential hopeful Pat Buchanan, speaking Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation," called Clinton's decision another example of intrusive federal government.

"Get big government, national government, out of it," said Buchanan, a former two-pack-a-day smoker. "Let this be done at the state and local level by the people themselves, but get the feds out of it."

Though Clinton's stance will hurt him in tobacco states, political aides think the general public is supportive of anti-smoking measures, especially those aimed at children.

"Unfortunately, the half of the White House that recommended the political trail of taking on the industry, causing lawsuits, stalling this for three or four years and making a big political splash, won out," Rose said.

He said Clinton could be hurt politically - "especially if by election time next year we're not doing anything but fussing."

The president said Friday he would look into the possibility of ending the tax deduction for cigarette advertising. In a sign of his eagerness to avoid FDA regulation, Rose did not rule out the idea Sunday.

"Everything's on the table," he said.