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CONGRESSMAN BLASTS CLINTON'S TOBACCO FIGHT

President Clinton was more interested in "making a big political splash" than making good public policy in his drive to regulate teen smoking, a tobacco-state lawmaker said Sunday.

Trying to force a concessions from the White House, Rep. Charlie Rose, D-N.C., accused the president of targeting the tobacco industry "more for political reasons than from practicality of solving the problem."He was among the guests on ABC's "This Week with David Brinkley" who debated administration 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.

Defending the White House plan, Food and Drug Commissioner David Kessler said the administration wants to reduce the access and appeal of cigarettes to youngsters.

"These are dangerous products and people do become addicted," he said. The proposals would become regulations if they survive a 90-day public comment period.

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

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

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

But Rose said Clinton can get much of what he wants through compromise legislation that averts 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."

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.

Eliminating the deduction only on cigarettes would be unfair, countered John Fithian, counsel for the Freedom to Advertise Coalition. Appearing on ABC, Fithian said that would amount to censoring speech.

Kessler argued that cigarette companies seduce children with sexy, splashy ads.

"We send very mixed signals to our children," the FDA chief said. "We tell them it's dangerous, then they see these ads that are glamorous. We tell them it's addictive, but they're walking around with the names of these products on shirts and hats. We tell them these products will kill them, but we have sporting events in their names."

The administration points to polls showing 30 percent of 3-year-olds and 90 percent of 6-year-olds can identify Joe Camel, the cigarette ad icon.

Fithian responded, "Children also recognize Snoopy and the Peanuts characters that are used to advertise Metropolitan Life ... but they are not rushing to buy life insurance."