The Department of Health, Education and Welfare is studying a series of legislative and administrative proposals designed to discourage smoking by strengthening government regulation of the nation's tobacco industry.
HEW officials confirmed yesterday that the department has under consideration measures to toughen warning language on cigarette packages, to give the government authority to limit the levels of tar and nicotine in cigarettes and to increase the federal excise tax on cigarettes.
The proposals were developed by a departmental task force at the request of HEW Secretary Joseph A. California Jr. who, according to a department spokesman, "feels that cigarettes are killers and wants to do everything in his power to discourage smoking in this country."
The spokesman said the task force will present a final set of antismoking proposals to California by "early November," and that the department is expected to present a comprehensive antismoking program to the public by January.
"The program undoubtedly will involve legislative proposals which will have to be approved by the White House before they are presented," the spokesman said. He said the present HEW antismoking project "is strictly a California initiative" and is designed to beef up the government's role in curbing smoking.
"We have a national clearinghouse on the uses of tobacco and smoking, but we've been largely in business of disseminating information. This is a more intensive effort," he said.
But it is an effort conducted and conceived "largely out of ignorance," according to William Kloepfer Jr., senior vice president of the Tobacco Institute, a Washington-based lobby for the nation's cigarette manufacturers.
Many of the proposals now under consideration by HEW have been offered before and knocked down in Congress, Kloepfer said. Moreover, Carter himself is not favor of more government involvement in the smoking-health controversy, Kloepfer contended.
"I have to wonder who is working for whom in this administration," he said. "HEW is apparently unaware of what the administration's position is. The evidence is overwhelming . . . President Carter is very clearly on the record . . . He sees no need for more legislation" to regulate the tobacco industry, Kloepfer said.
The tobacco lobbyist charged that the present HEW move to make the government an active antismoking advocate is being undertaken "more for show than for substance."
For example, he said the HEW task force proposal to work with the Federal Trade Commission to toughen cigarette package labeling is a resurrection of a similar attempt in 1972, when Congress considered a bill to empower the FTC to set standards for cigarettes.
FTC said then that it did not want that power and Congress dropped the matter, Kloepfer said.
A White House domestic policy spokesman declined comment on the HEW task force proposals.