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EFFORTS TO CURB TOBACCO USE BY KIDS ARE CLOUDED BY SMOKE

QUESTION: President Clinton has ordered new limitations on tobacco directed toward young people, among other things banning cigarette vending machines and advertising aimed at young people. By allowing nicotine to be declared an addictive drug, he's given the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate tobacco and thus carry out his campaign. Is this a good idea?

BETSY HART: Let me get this straight: One of the leaders of the "tune in, turn on and drop out" generation thinks he has the moral authority to tell kids not to smoke? He must have inhaled something!I don't smoke, and I'm all for parents and schools coming down hard on kids who do. But the president's posturing on this issue is absurd.

First, the studies he points to declaring nicotine an addictive drug - necessary to let the FDA regulate it - are dubious at best. (They were conducted by groups that had the express purpose of finding tobacco addictive.) And allowing the FDA such broad powers violates the Constitution, which guarantees only Congress has the power to regulate interstate commerce.

Among the order's many onerous provisions is one ordering the tobacco industry to fund and implement an annual $150 million anti-smoking campaign. Has Clinton even heard of free speech? His actions are nothing but an excuse for a federal - and dangerous - power grab.

Does the president really care about teens? I doubt it. I don't hear him proposing a program to curb early teenage sexual activity, and that can be a lot more life- and soul-destroying than a few puffs on a cigarette.

BONNIE ERBE: My colleague's exceedingly lengthy grasp to find something nasty to lob at President Clinton is evidence aplenty of the desperation of the right wing of the Republican Party. Even when the president does something admirable, the radical right must criticize.

She reminds us all that we should never underestimate the energy of the radical right when it comes to defending what most Americans find indefensible. Watch her rush to support the free speech and civil rights of R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, David Koresh, Timothy McVeigh, the Michigan Militia, as well as murderous anti-abortion protesters. But perish the possibility that she should ever stick up for women, minorities, the middle class or the hard-working stiff.

As a former smoker, I support the right of all Americans to do as they please with their bodies (as long as they do not expect me to pick up the doctor and hospital bills). But I also appreciate government efforts aimed at discouraging smoking.

The success of prior administrations becomes immediately clear when one travels abroad. In Europe and Asia, smoke-filled airplanes, trains, restaurants and hotel rooms are proof-positive that people will unwittingly destroy themselves unless governments act to inform and prevent them. Of course, even the beneficial aspects of "big government" are bogeymen to the radical right.

What became obvious during this past week's debate over teen smoking was the enormous hypocrisy on the part of tobacco producers.