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Hatch adding heat to his tobacco bill

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is toughening his proposed tobacco reform bill to gain support from Democrats but not so much that it would lose backing from cigarette companies.

"I think that cigarette companies will still come on board but kicking and screaming. But without them, we can't make the bill constitutional," Hatch told the Deseret News on Monday.Hatch now wants to add $60 billion in costs to cigarette companies beyond a proposed settlement with state attorneys general last year to end state lawsuits in exchange for huge payments and voluntary support of new advertising bans.

That is still less than costs in a bill by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., which Republican leaders (with Hatch's help) killed last week. Democrats led by President Clinton want to resurrect it.

But Hatch has called McCain's bill a "dog" that would raise tobacco prices so high it would create a black market.

Also, Hatch said, it would impose ad restrictions and "look-back" penalties (if targets for reduction in teen smoking are not met) that would be unconstitutional unless tobacco companies voluntarily agree to them - and they have said they won't because of the McCain bill's high cost.

Hatch's bill to add $60 billion to the original $368 billion settlement would bring costs to about $428.5 billion, he estimates.

He said, "That's punitive, but I had to do that to get the Democrats on board." He adds, "I think the cigarette companies will still support it if they think it will pass."

He said some liability limitation it offers - such as allowing plaintiffs who win awards to be paid no more than $1 million a year - plus eliminating class action suits against cigarette companies make it in their interest to support his bill.

Hatch said he and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., hope to unveil their new compromise version sometime this week and that he has seven Republicans and four Democrats co-sponsoring it so far.

He added that he talked to President Clinton personally seeking support for her version of the bill and briefed his top domestic policy advisers about his proposals last week.

"They took it under advisement," Hatch said.