The president of the American Cancer Society today called on President Reagan to "restore" administration support for legislation that would require stronger health warning labels on cigarettes, asking him to ignore pressure from the tobacco industry.
Dr. Robert V. P. Hutter called the recent administration retreat from an earlier endorsement of such legislation a "profound disappointment" and urged Reagan to provide "leadership" in battling the "insidious health hazard" posed by cigarettes.
Hutter's plea, at the opening of a science writers' meeting here, followed a March 18 letter to the president that Hutter released today. He said he has not received a response.
Alan Davis, an American Cancer Society (ACS) vice president, said afterward that a December letter from his organization and other voluntary health groups to the White House also has gone unanswered.
The ACS, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association recently formed a coalition to use their political muscle on behalf of stronger antismoking legislation.
Another health group, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has also called in a policy statement for the government to phase out "as rapidly as possible" all "direct and indirect support by local, state or federal governments of the production, distribution or consumption of tobacco and tobacco products."
But Hutter of the ACS, who heads the pathology department at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., compared the health groups and the administration to a "David and Goliath" situation and complained that the administration seems to have been more responsive to tobacco interests.
Administration spokesmen said at a March 16 congressional hearing that the question of new antismoking legislation was still under study, while only five days earlier the same officials had enthusiastically endorsed more specific health warnings on cigarette packages and advertising.
Congressional and administration sources later admitted that the about-face took place after strenuous lobbying efforts by tobacco state congressmen, including personal contacts with top White House officials. Officials in the Health and Human Services Department, who strongly supported the proposed legislation, were overruled. A final decision has not yet been announced.
ACS official Davis said yesterday that "we asked for a meeting" with White House chief of staff James A. Baker III in a December letter and a recent phone call, but there has been "no response.. We were told they had been unable to arrange a meeting thus far."
He added that government health officials, however, have been "very supportive."
The proposed legislation would replace the current warning that smoking "is dangerous to your health" with more specific warnings about the dangers of heart disease, lung cancer, emphysema, risks to unborn children and the prospect of addiction.
If it were not for lung cancer deaths, 85 percent of which are attributed to smoking, Hutter said that overall cancer mortality would be going down instead of up.