NEW ORLEANS — Trying to put the festering tobacco issue behind him and signaling a possible shift of position, Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole issued a terse statement Saturday supporting President Clinton's new effort to curb teenage smoking.
Dole, who found himself mired in a flap earlier this year after suggesting nicotine is not necessarily addictive, said he was "pleased" that Clinton "has finally recognized the dangers of teen smoking."
The statement by the GOP candidate referred to a series of measures Clinton unveiled Friday that, in large part, aim to reduce tobacco use among young people by limiting the advertising and availability of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.
Dole's statement, however, omitted any direct comment on Clinton's declaration that nicotine is an addictive drug and the specific regulations he approved that give the Food and Drug Administration broad jurisdiction to regulate tobacco.
"We're still reviewing the specifics of the regulations," said Nelson Warfield, Dole's press secretary. "It took the FDA more than a year to promulgate them; it will take us more than a few days to digest them."
Two months ago, in his last public comments on the issue, Dole strongly questioned the FDA's jurisdiction to regulate tobacco. His endorsement Saturday of the premise behind many of the new rules and his decision to review the regulations rather than reject them out of hand suggest that he may be tempering his view of the FDA's authority. But he did criticize Clinton for taking "more than three years" to crack down on teenage smoking.
In his statement, Dole said: "I'm proud of my long and consistent record of supporting common-sense measures to keep tobacco products out of the hands of minors. The bottom line is that no teenager in America should ever try cigarettes or start smoking."
Dole campaigned on his own Saturday in New Orleans and Tampa, Fla., as he and his running mate, Jack Kemp, ended a string of joint appearances made since the end of the Republican National Convention earlier this month. Kemp campaigned in South Dakota and Washington state.
At their rallies, both men vigorously promoted the GOP ticket's tax-cutting, "pro-growth" economic agenda.
In Chicago, meanwhile, many of the 4,320 delegates to the Democratic National Convention streamed into town for various receptions and other special events. The theatrics surrounding the convention were in full swing--the Blue Angels conducted maneuvers over the city's skyscrapers during the day and fireworks exploded overhead at an evening welcoming party.
Also arriving before the convention's start on Monday was Vice President Al Gore, who spoke briefly to a crowd of supporters at Grant Park, scene of clashes between police and those protesting the Vietnam War at the infamous 1968 Democratic convention.
Gore listed a range of first-term accomplishments by the Clinton administration, from creation of 10 million jobs to a lower federal budget deficit. But his listeners responded with their loudest cheer when he jokingly claimed credit for the recent record-setting championship season by the city's NBA team, the Bulls.
As Gore spoke, a small group of sign-waving demonstrators gathered nearby without incident to press a variety of causes, mainly the legalization of marijuana. They were separated from the vice president by thick fencing and a line of police officers.
Earlier, a larger contingent of demonstrators briefly stopped traffic on Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago's shopping district. The demonstrators, carrying signs saying "Legalize Hemp" and "Stop the Drug War Now," were peacefully escorted by about 40 police officers.
The crowds of Saturday afternoon shoppers on the sidewalks seemed mostly amused by the disruption; several hoisted their children up so the youngsters could view the scene.
The convention's main guest of honor, Clinton, boards a train dubbed the "21st Century Express" today in West Virginia for a multi-state tour. He is due to arrive Wednesday in Michigan City, Ind., near Chicago.
Dole and Kemp began their campaigning Saturday by jointly delivering the GOP's weekly response to Clinton's radio address.
Dole opened by promoting his economic agenda--which includes a 15% cut in income tax rates, halving the capital gains tax and a $500-per-child tax credit--and said the public response to the proposal "has been overwhelmingly positive."
Dole said Clinton has offered no constructive economic proposals of his own, only "a harsh and negative advertising campaign, hoping to scare you into believing that our plan would harm Americans who rely on Medicare."
Kemp criticized the Clinton administration for being content with an annual 2.3% economic growth rate, adding: "President Clinton may be satisfied with the status quo, but Bob Dole and I are not."