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Blocked From One Hearing, He'll Appear Aug. 1 : Surgeon General to Testify on Tobacco

July 19, 1986|LARALYN SASAKI | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The White House ordered Surgeon General C. Everett Koop not to testify at a hearing Friday on controversial legislation to ban all tobacco product advertising, but he said that he will appear at a hearing on Aug. 1 on the issue.

Koop, who has called for a "smokeless society" by the year 2000, originally was scheduled to appear at the Friday House hearing but was blocked by White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan. In a letter to the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and the environment, however, the surgeon general said he will appear before it on Aug. 1.

"We believe it is more appropriate that my testimony as an Administration official be given in the context of overall concerns about this issue," Koop wrote in his letter, "in addition to (the Department of Health and Human Services') role as an adviser on public health concerns about cigarette smoking."

Other Agencies to Appear

But he said: "We did not realize until just recently that other agencies wished to comment on this issue." Witnesses from the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are now scheduled to appear at that hearing.

Although he had been expected Friday to voice support for the ban, proposed by Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), his backing would not represent an official Administration endorsement.

Regan, who opposes the legislation, has not responded to queries by California Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the subcommittee, who has asked the chief of staff to explain why he did not want Koop to testify.

However, Regan was quoted earlier this week as saying that a decision on the legislation should be made by the White House, not by Koop. Moreover, in the past, the Administration has refused to endorse similar legislation, arguing that such a ban would be unconstitutional.

"It is absolutely ludicrous for the Administration to argue against a tobacco advertising ban using the free speech argument on one hand and then muzzle Surgeon General Koop on the other," subcommittee member James H. Scheuer (D-N.Y.) said.

Medical Experts Testify

On Friday, the panel heard testimony from members of the medical community who attribute at least 350,000 premature deaths each year--one in six deaths in the United States--to cigarette smoking, labeled the most preventable cause of death in the country.

"The 1,000 funerals that will be held today because of cigarette smoking is a terrible burden on our society," said Dr. William Foege, American Public Health Assn. president.

But the tobacco industry, which yearly spends more than $2 billion on marketing and promotion, says that the advertising question is basically one of freedom of speech--and that the health-related concerns are part of a different issue, the banning of tobacco products themselves.

"The truth is that no body of Congress, no White House and no Supreme Court has upheld a total ban on the advertising of a legal product," said Tobacco Institute spokesman Scott Stapf.

He added that proponents of a ban must clearly show that such action would reduce cigarette consumption or stop smokers from beginning the habit. No advertising "magically turns nonsmokers into smokers," Stapf said.

But Dr. Frank Palumbo, spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, testified that 90% of American smokers began the habit before age 20; the average beginning age is 14.

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