A Philip Morris Cos. executive said the nation's
largest cigarette maker is willing to discuss some government
regulation of the embattled tobacco industry.
Senior vice president Steven Parrish said the company still
opposes efforts by the Food and Drug Administration to classify and
regulate tobacco as a drug, an issue at the core of a pending U.S.
Supreme Court case.
However, Parrish said he has met recently with U.S. lawmakers to
discuss the company's "willingness to open up a dialogue and look
at the right regulatory approach."
Parrish said the company would be willing to discuss regulating
cigarettes in such areas as sales to young people, research on
safer products and the disclosure of ingredients.
His comments appeared today in The Wall Street Journal, New York
Times and Washington Post. Details of the company's policy shift
were expected to be announced Thursday.
Michael Pfeil, a spokesman for Philip Morris's domestic tobacco
division in New York, said Parrish was unavailable today to
elaborate on his remarks to the newspapers. But he said the company
feels "there is some level of acceptable regulation of cigarettes
as cigarettes but not as medical devices."
President Clinton said in Washington that he was "heartened"
by the reports.
"If Philip Morris is ready to support the FDA provisions of the
tobacco bill the industry and the congressional leadership killed
just two years ago, that is an important step forward," the
president told reporters before leaving the White House for a
political fund-raising trip to Florida.
"Every day 3,000 young people smoke for the first time and
1,000 others will die earlier as a result," Clinton said. "We
have a duty to everything we can to save and lengthen their lives
by protecting our young people of the dangers of tobacco."
FDA officials contacted Monday night by The Associated Press
said they were unaware of Parrish's statements and had no comment.
The statements are a departure from the industry's stance
against government oversight.
But tobacco companies have been shaken by courtroom battles and
the multibillion-dollar settlement with states over money spent
treating sick smokers. Philip Morris has acknowledged that smoking
causes cancer and other deadly diseases and is trying to improve
its public image with a $100 million campaign to publicize how it
has helped disaster victims, the hungry and abused women.
Also pending is the Supreme Court decision on whether Congress
gave the FDA authority to regulate the industry. A ruling is
expected by the end of June.