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Businesses Saw Anti-Smoking Handwriting on the Wall : Tobacco: Vending, advertising and other companies have tried to wean themselves from reliance on cigarette revenues.


They may not be happy with President Clinton's plans to curb teen-age smoking, but many businesses said Thursday that they have already made sure that they are not hooked on tobacco revenue.

Cigarette vending machines are becoming relics of the past. The billboard industry already keeps tobacco signs away from schools. No tobacco ads grace the glossy pages of teen magazines. The 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta will be free of tobacco company sponsorship. And some convenience stores say they've been training their clerks to say no to nicotine-craving youth.

For years now, companies that have depended on tobacco sales have been feeling the heat from scores of municipal and state anti-smoking ordinances across the nation. In California alone, more than 100 cities and counties have some form of smoking ban.

Clinton's plan to curb sales of tobacco to those under 18 and shield youngsters from tobacco advertising is merely the latest government move against the tobacco industry. Many companies say they'll make do without tobacco revenues.

Cigarette vending machines are one casualty of anti-smoking campaigns. They're not even manufactured anymore, and only about 400,000 are still in use, in contrast to 25 years ago, when there were more than a million, said Tim Sanford, editor of Vending Times magazine.

Bob Van, head technician at All-American Vending Co. in Van Nuys, hangs on to a few of the machines for parts. "In the last couple of years, nobody wants vending machines. This law with Clinton is nothing new to the vendors of California."

After California banned the sale of cigarettes to minors years ago, then restricted smoking in the workplace earlier this year, vending companies increasingly began concentrating on selling soft drinks, food, condoms and even perfume. "Nobody specializes in cigarettes" anymore, Van says.

The National Automatic Merchandising Assn., which represents vending machine manufacturers, owners and operators, opposes the Clinton proposal but stressed Thursday that vending machines account for only about 1% of the 25 billion cigarette packs sold each year.

Many minors do get their cigarettes from convenience stores. But Southland Corp., which operates 5,095 7-Eleven stores, praised the President's proposals, saying they strengthen its efforts to curtail underage smoking.

Clerks learn how to say no to minors in a four-step training program, and cigarettes are kept within the clerks' control behind or on top of the counters, company officials said. Tobacco accounts for 17.2% of 7-Eleven sales.

"We commend the President on his leadership. We're not sure how this will affect us ultimately, but we have the same goal not to sell tobacco to minors," spokeswoman Margaret Chabris said.

Although the billboard industry established a voluntary ban on placing tobacco ads within 500 feet of a school or church in 1990, it filed a lawsuit with other advertising associations Thursday protesting on First Amendment grounds the proposed content regulation of tobacco advertising.

Gannett Outdoor Co., a nationwide billboard and outdoor advertising company, called Clinton's proposal to keep billboards 1,000 feet from schools excessive.

Gannett has turned away from tobacco for advertising accounts, concentrating instead on entertainment, travel and automotive advertising. At one time, tobacco ads constituted 30% to 35% of company revenue; today tobacco accounts for less than 10%, company officials said.

"We've been extremely responsible," said Pamela Anderson, vice president of public affairs at Gannett.

Some sports venues already avoid tobacco advertising. Coca-Cola is the only advertiser inside Dodger Stadium. And the 1996 Summer Olympics will be free of tobacco sponsorship, the Atlanta Olympic Committee said.

But other sporting events, such as the Virginia Slims tennis tournament and the Winston Cup NASCAR racing series, are sponsored by tobacco companies, and those could be affected by Clinton's proposal.

The proposed regulations will be published in the Federal Register today, allowing 90 days of public comment to shape their ultimate design.


Times wire services contributed to this report. * SMOKE OUT: President Clinton orders curbs to limit teen-age smoking. A1

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