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A devil's bargain.

Byline: The Register-Guard

Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons rarely achieves an outcome anyone can be proud of: No matter how noble the counterbalancing compromise, in the end the wrong thing gets done.

That's what happened Thursday when the U.S. Senate struck a deal to win long-overdue federal regulation of the tobacco industry's products and advertising. Unfortunately, the price tag to end the nation's most unconscionable regulatory blind spot was a $12 billion ransom to tobacco growers shoved into a pork-laden tax bill.

The Alice in Wonderland environment that spawned this devil's bargain emerged in response to a congressional effort to remove a corporate tax credit for exporters. The tobacco proposals were added to a bill intended to help American corporations escape new European tariffs imposed after the World Trade Organization ruled that the export tax credit was illegal.

What is a tobacco buyout doing in an export tax repeal bill? The same thing as tax relief for Oldsmobile dealers, NASCAR track owners, bank directors and bourbon distillers - appeasing corporate lobbyists.

Apparently, $12 billion was the magic number to purchase support from tobacco-belt lawmakers and cigarette industry lobbyists for FDA regulation. If the bill survives a conference committee effort to reconcile differences with a much worse House version, tobacco growers would be paid billions to bail them out of an outmoded 1930s-era crop support program.

That's sure to put smiles on the faces of all the other agricultural interests hoping to cash in on inevitable crop support buyouts. But it was no way go about finally giving the Food and Drug Administration the authority it should have always had to regulate the sale, manufacture and marketing of tobacco products.

The FDA long ago should have been given a congressional mandate to oversee tobacco product warning labels, ingredient lists and industry restrictions on marketing to young people. What really needs to happen is for this deal to fall apart in conference and for Congress to start over and do the right thing for the right reason.

If lawmakers can't figure out whether the health of America's teenagers is more important than the profits of tobacco farmers, voters ought to clue them in come November.
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Title Annotation:Editorials; Senate buys tobacco regulation for $12 billion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 17, 2004
Previous Article:Overtime overhaul.

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