WASHINGTON -- In an aggressive response to the Clinton administration's get-tough policy on teen smoking, a Food Marketing Institute panel will seek to develop a model program for retailers on tobacco sales, according to Timothy M. Hammonds, FMI's president and chief executive officer.
While the proposed plan shifts tobacco purchasing activity to manned checkouts and service counters, FMI is out to show that concepts such as self-service displays and vending machines can still be used in ways that will make it hard for teens to purchase these forbidden products.
Though the groundwork to form the panel had already begun, the announcement of the task force's formation comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration's proposal to curtail the sale, distribution and advertising of cigarettes to minors.
The four-pronged effort, unveiled Aug. 10 by President Clinton, would ban self-serve cigarette displays and cigarette vending machines. It also would ban cigarette sponsorship of sporting events and brand-name advertising on unrelated consumer products; prohibit billboard ads for cigarettes near schools and permit only black-and-white, text-only ads in publications with more than 15% of their readership under 18, and require the tobacco industry to create a $150 million advertising campaign to discourage children from smoking.
Hammonds said the FMI task force will be open to other associations those interested in offering observations during the 90-day period in which comments on the rules can be made to the FDA. He said two Philip Morris representatives have agreed to serve on the committee.
"Given the lawsuit filed today," Hammonds said, referring to the suit filed by five cigarette manufacturers immediately after Clinton's announcement, "it's very likely we'll have a model program developed before we see any real implementation of the initiative that was put forward today."
A coalition of advertising and public relations agencies filed a similar suit soon afterward, protesting points such as the virtual ban on tobacco point-of-sale displays the plan would produce.
Lawsuits and any actions taken by Congress in response to the proposed rules won't get in the way of the task force's mission, Hammonds stated. "I think it is highly likely we will develop a model program for retailers on tobacco sales, regardless of whether the proposal we heard today goes forward in its current form." "I think we would be developing a recommended model program for food retailers that would make a realistic attempt to come to grips with under-age access. "There are lots of initiatives out there to help us sort out what works and what doesn't work," he said, citing scanner lockout systems that require the presentation of identification when cigarettes are scanned as one example.
"We've been working on this one for several years now. It's not a new initiative for us, but clearly the president has put this on the front burner of everyone's agenda."
Hammonds said that while in a White House meeting before the announcement, he outlined to Clinton the following concerns:
The message has to be clear and simple. "From our point of view, the basic provisions of all of this should be the same across all states and jurisdictions."
Peer pressure. "The penalty now is only on cashiers. We would like to see a dual system in which the teen buying the cigarettes also faces some punishment."
Self-service displays. "I think we do have room here to talk about how to use face-to-face purchase, to use ID checks and still be able to have self-service displays."
Vending machines. "There are models where vending machines can be operated only with a token that has to be obtained from a cashier."