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Who’s to blame for failed tobacco deal?

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The head of RJR Nabisco vigorously defended the tobacco industry and blamed the defeat of compromise tobacco legislation on political leaders and public health advocates.

Steven F. Goldstone, chairman and chief executive of the company that owns R.J. Reynolds tobacco, said Congress fell victim to advocates who pushed for tobacco tax increases instead of implementing the agreement that was reached a year ago between the tobacco companies and the attorneys general of most states.That compromise fell by the wayside as the Senate took up another proposal that would have added a $1.10 tax on each pack of cigarettes and using a portion of that money to combat smoking among teenagers. The Senate's Republican leadership killed that bill last week.

"It is wrong to say last week's event was a victory for tobacco companies," Goldstone said at a luncheon in San Francisco Thursday. "We tried last year . . . to chart a new course and that effort has completely failed. Last week only proved that."

Goldstone also said he held no ill will against San Francisco, the first city in the country to file a lawsuit against the tobacco industry in an attempt to recover tax money spent on smoking-related illnesses.

"I love San Francisco," Goldstone told a gathering of tobacco opponents and members of the Commonwealth Club of California, which sponsored the luncheon. "We'll just have to let the lawsuit play out. That doesn't affect my view of the city."

When asked what he thought about numerous anti-smoking efforts in California, Goldstone said his company disagreed with the policies in principal, but had no problems with states determining their own regulations.

Several of his opponents in the audience disagreed with that statement, saying the industry was funding smokers' rights groups that have challenged the laws.

"Either he doesn't know what his underlings are doing or he's not being forthcoming about how much influence (the industry) has at state and local levels," said Lisa Goldman, spokeswoman for the Berkeley-based Americans for Non-smokers' Rights.

San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne said she was impressed with Goldstone's presentation but didn't buy the argument.

"His speech certainly ignored a lot of the history of the tobacco industry," said Renne, who is overseeing her office's case against R.J. Reynolds and five other tobacco companies. "Obviously he is still hoping that the June 1997 settlement will be passed."