WASHINGTON — Sen. Edward Kennedy expects to begin hearings on his omnibus antismoking bill when Congress reconvenes early in 1990. Senator Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, introducing the legislation on Wednesday at a crowded press conference, vowed to give it ``high priority.'' His staff hopes to move the $185 million bill swiftly through the Labor and Human Resources Committee - which Kennedy chairs.
The ranking Republican on the committee is Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah, known as a keen antismoking advocate. A spokesman for Senator Hatch, however, says the senator will not decide to become a co-sponsor until he has seen the legislation.
The Kennedy legislation aims to discourage youths, minorities, and blue-collar workers from smoking. It establishes a Center for Tobacco Products to exercise regulatory authority over the industry. And it would spend $50 million on advertising to discourage tobacco use.
The proposed legislation, however, does not include restrictions on industry advertising. According to a Kennedy staff member, these limitations were removed from the bill to try to help passage. Advertising restrictions would be opposed by publishers and advertising agencies.
The legislation would allow state and local communities to enact their own advertising and promotion restrictions.
Kennedy says he is introducing the bill now because he feels public opinion has turned sharply against smoking. ``Tobacco use is public health enemy No. 1 in America today,'' he says. The Tobacco Institute, an industry lobby, says the legislation is not needed. ``The Kennedy bill addresses issues already regulated or controlled in some fashion,'' spokeswoman Brennan Dawson says.