|TOBACCO SETTLEMENT MAY RESULT
IN HEALTH RESEARCH DOLLARS
In June of 1997, state attorneys general and the tobacco industry negotiated an agreement that, if enacted by Congress, would settle a number of lawsuits and provide the industry with future legal immunity. In exchange, cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies would pay $368.5 billion to federal, state, and local governments over 25 years. In an ironic twist for an industry that is in trouble partly because of the research it conducted, health research might receive funding as a result of the tobacco agreement. Five Senate bills, introduced in October and November of 1997, would use tobacco’s billions to support biomedical science.
Sen. Connie Mack (R-FL) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), in S. 1411, propose to increase funds for medical research by eliminating the ability of tobacco companies to take a tax deduction from their lawsuit settlements. Those funds, estimated at $100 billion, would be used to establish a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Trust Fund for Health Research. Two percent of the amount made available from the fund would go to the Office of the Director of NIH. Another two percent would be given to the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) for facilities. Although NIH would decide how to spend the remainder of the money, the bill specifically mentions the Office of AIDS Research as a potential recipient. Sen. Mack’s bill is cosponsored by nine Democrats and six Republicans. Sen. Harkin stated, “Our bipartisan proposal turns tobacco profits towards a cancer cure by using big tobacco’s so-called tax deduction to fund additional medical research. That’s a common sense goal...” Over 175 organizations, including the American Cancer Society, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, and the Association of American Universities, have endorsed the Mack-Harkin legislation.
Sen. Orrin G. Hatch’s (R-UT) “Placing Restraints on Tobacco’s Endangerment of Children and Teens (PROTECT) Act” (S. 1530), noting the industry’s “past reprehensible marketing of tobacco,” calls for higher punitive damages. The tobacco industry would pay a total of $398.3 billion over 25 years, of which $95 billion would be directed to a Trust Fund for Health Research. Approximately $4.0 billion a year, for 25 years, would support a National Institutes of Health Trust Fund. From this fund, two percent would be allocated to the Office of the Director of the NIH and for equipment acquisition. Another two percent would be transferred to the NCRR for facilities. One percent would be for health information communications and ten percent would go to national cancer research and demonstration centers. Eighty-five percent would be distributed to other NIH member institutes and centers, including the Office of AIDS Research.
Additionally, Sen. Hatch wants a National Tobacco Research Agenda to
be prepared annually by the Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease
Control (CDC), NIH, and others. The Agenda would outline research
concerning the role of tobacco products in causing cancer, genetic and
behavioral factors related to tobacco, the development of prevention and
treatment models, the development of safer tobacco products, and brain
development in infants and children.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) introduced the “Healthy and Smoke Free Children Act” (S. 1492). The bill would establish a National Biomedical and Scientific Research Board to make grants and contracts for the conduct and support of research and training in basic and biomedical research and child health and development. In S. 1491, Sen. Kennedy proposes an excise tax of $1.50 on a pack of cigarettes, which would bring in $20 billion a year, including $10 billion a year to fund research. Kennedy’s bill differs from S. 1411, S. 1530, and S. 1414 in that yearly revenues over an unlimited time period would be generated — a total of $650 billion over the first 25 years. Sen. Kennedy proposes supporting research at the NIH, the National Science Foundation (NSF), research hospitals, universities, research institutes, and cancer research centers. Graduate training support may include programs of student loan forgiveness for students in the sciences and biomedical sciences who pursue careers as science teachers or researchers in nonprofit institutions. Equivalent versions of S. 1492 and S. 1492 have been introduced in the House as H.R. 3028 and H.R. 3027 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT).
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced S. 1343, the Public Health and Education Resource (PHAER) Act, which proposes to increase the excise tax rate by $1.50 a pack. The revenues would be deposited in a PHAER Trust Fund. Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Kennedy have introduced bills very different from their colleagues’ and very different from each other’s. Although both propose excise taxes that would bring in yearly revenues, Sen. Lautenberg’s bill allocates much less money to research. The PHAER Trust Fund, which would net $494 billion over 25 years, details $1 billion a year going to NIH and CDC. Rep. James V. Hansen (R-UT) has also introduced H.R. 2764, a House side equivalent to S. 1343.
Sen. Mack’s bill S. 1411, Sen. Kennedy’s companion bill S.1491, and Sen. Lautenberg’s S. 1343 have been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. McCain’s bill has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee; a hearing is scheduled for February 24. Sen. Kennedy’s bill., S. 1492, has been referred to the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee.
Clearly, Sen. Mack’s bill enjoys more bipartisan support than Sen. Kennedy’s bill, cosponsored by four other Democrats; Sen. McCain’s bill, supported by one other Republican and two Democrats; Sen. Hatch’s bill, which has no cosponsors; or Sen. Lautenberg’s, which has two Democrat cosponsors. Interestingly, Sen. Kennedy is a cosponsor of S. 1411, S. 1415, and S. 1343.
Meanwhile, Members of Congress are less than optimistic about the prospects of comprehensive tobacco legislation this Spring. Various Senate committees have claimed jurisdiction over tobacco. There are vehement objections to giving tobacco companies protections from future litigation and there is much wrangling between state and federal governments over division of the tobacco payments. However, in introducing S. 1411, Sen. Mack made it clear that the bill did not depend on the enactment of a final federal settlement. “The bill applies to any settlement or judgment at the state or federal level,” said Sen. Mack.
Whenever Congress does pass tobacco legislation, biomedical research
seems a likely winner. “A major bipartisan move is already under
way in Congress to double the NIH budget,” Sen. Kennedy told an audience
at the National Press Club in mid-December of 1997. Exemplifying
this move, a Sense of the Senate Resolution, that Congress and the Nation
should commit to the goal of doubling funding for NIH over the next five
years, passed by a vote of 98 to 0. Sen. Mack explains, “Increasing
our investment in medical research is a sure-fire way to improve the quality
of our lives and of our children and grandchildren.”