Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House subcommittee on health and the environment, criticized the White House yesterday for refusing to allow Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to testify in favor of legislation to ban all advertising for tobacco products.
The White House announced that Koop would not appear, as scheduled, before Waxman's panel today. Spokesman Albert R. Brashear said the administration did not want Koop to appear before the committee with witnesses from outside groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Cancer Society.
The Washington Post reported yesterday that White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan had ordered Koop to scrap his planned testimony in favor of the legislation and that the Office of Management and Budget had also refused to approve it.
"As we review the record of this administration on smoking, we are troubled by a pattern of behavior of which censoring Dr. Koop is the latest example," Waxman said in a letter to Regan, inviting him to testify on why Koop would not be allowed to appear.
"We have seen repeated efforts in previous years to silence public comment on the health effects of smoking by representatives of the U.S. Public Health Service," Waxman said. He recalled that in 1982, assistant secretary for health Edward Brandt in Senate testimony endorsed legislation to strengthen cigarette warning labels, but the endorsement later was "censored."
"In fact, the administration has failed to endorse any legislative proposals designed to inform the public about the health effects of smoking," Waxman said.
"Although the president agreed to sign legislation relating to warning labels on cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, it was done in the face of unanimous support in the House and Senate and after the tobacco industry agreed to the legislation in an effort to avoid more stringent laws," he said.
"Prevention of cigarette smoking is a major public health issue. The impact of smoking on the health of our youth deserves the concern of every American. It deserves your concern and the concern of this administration. It is significantly more important an issue to the strength of this nation than concerns over the economic impact of an advertising ban on Wall Street."
Brashear, the White House spokesman, said the legislation at issue, sponsored by Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.), "is much more" than just a ban on cigarette advertising. The bill would prohibit all advertising and promotion of tobacco products.
Brashear said Koop may testify later this year, accompanied by representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department. Other officials have said the administration would not endorse the legislation.