Declaring war on "Public Health Enemy No. 1," Health, Education and Welfare Secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. announced a campaign yesterday to ban smoking in airliners, toughen restrictions on smoking in federal buildings and strengthen health warnings on cigarette packages.
Calling it the most sweeping effort ever to break the habits of the nation's 55 million smokers, Califano said the Federal Trade Commission will consider a recommendation to empower the government to set maximum levels of tar, nicotine and carbon monixide in cigarettes.
Califano also said that he and Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal will study whether to recommend an increase in the eight-cent federal excise tax on each pack of cigarettes with reduced tar and nicotine contents.
"People who smoke are committing slow-motion suicide," said Califano, who gave up smoking 2 1/2 years ago. "Research since the 1964 Surgeon General's Report [linking smoking with lung cancer and heart disease] has proven that smoking is even more dangerous than we originally believed; it accounts for even more disease and disorders than we realized 14 years ago."
Califano's campaign against smoking was attacking almost immediatley from both sides of the issue. The House of Representatives in Kentucky, a tobacco state, called for his resignation, and the American Tobacco Institute denounced his program as an intrusion on Americans' civil liberties.
"Secretary Califano's 'stop smokin' campaign appears the personal product of a prohibitionist mentality," said instiute Vice President William F. Dwyer. "I have to wonder whether the secretary's plan will deny federal assistance unless and until the applicant files an affirmative stop-smoking plan attached to an anti-tobacco impact statement."
On the other side, John Banzhaf, director of Action on Smoking and Health, said Califano "has labored mightily and brought forth a mouse." Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Ralph Nader-affiliated Health Research Group, said the $23 million proposed by Califano for an anti-smoling campaign in fiscal 1979 is not enough.
"If the government can spend $250 million to combat a non-existent disease like swine flu," Wolfe said, "it should spend at least that much on smoking."
White House press secretary Jody Powell endorsed Califano's campaign at the same time he said the government would not go so far as ending federal price supports for farmers raising tobacco.
"The administration does not feel there is any logic," Powell said, "in asking thousands of families and communities to bear the burden of economic ruin which would result if we abolished this part of the farm program because of the habits of an entire nation."
The reason Califano moved so hard and fast against smoking is recent research that shows alarming trends in smoking habits and even more alarming statistics in smoking diseases.
Although 14 million Americans, most of them white males, have given up smoking in the last 14 years, enough teenagers, women and minorities have taken up the habit to swell smokers' ranks to 55 million. The percentage of Americans who smoke is 39 per cent, unchanged in the last decade.
Smoking is now linked to 90 per cent of the 100,000 new cases of lung cancer reported every year according to the National Cancer Institute. Califano said that smoking was a major factor last year in 22,000 deaths from cancers of the mouth, throat, kidney and bladdera, and in 220,000 deaths from heart disease.
"Smoking ruins health," Califano said. "Smoking kills."
Califano said the "most firghtening" statistic of all is the one that shows more "pre-teen" children are taking up smoking. The National Cancer Institute said that it believes more children are smoking because they are "turned on" by the scare type of educational program aimed at young smokers.
"In one major urban area on the West Coast, 1 out of 20 children i smoking by age 11," Califano said. "Just one year older, at age 12, this figure skyrockets to 1 out of 5."
Califano said he will target a good part of his anti-smoking campaign at what he called "special risk" groups. He said the Food and Drug Administration is revising its labeling requirements to warn that women who use birth control pills and who smoke run a greater risk of heart disease than women who do not smoke.
Uraninum miners, asbestos workers and cement workers who smoke run greater risks of lung cancer than those who don't smoke, Califano said. Workers in these industries will be warned of the greater risk they run, Califano said.
Together with the Federal Trade Commission, Califano said, HEW will consider recommendations to strengthen warnings on cigarette packages and cigarette ads, and to include tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide levels on all packages and in all advertising. HEW will also study with the Treasury Department ways of setting up a graduated tax on tar and carbon monoxide content.
"This is to give manufacturers incentives to market less hazardous brands," Califano said, "and to give smokers incentives to change to less hazardous brands."
Califano said he wrote yesterday to Civil Aeronautics Board Chairman Alfred Kahn urging quick adoption of proposed regualtions to ban pipe and cigar smoking on airliners. In addition, Califano sid he urged Kahn "to consider favorably a proposal to ban all smoking on commercial air-craft.