After Promising To ‘Never’ Give Up Fighting Big Tobacco, McCain Gives Up

Last month, the House passed legislation — sparking the ire of conservatives — that would grant the FDA stronger regulation power over the tobacco industry, mirroring a 1998 proposal authored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). At the time, McCain said he would “never” give up on his anti-tobacco efforts.

As the Wonk Room noted, however, McCain recently signaled that he had doubts with the House legislation, stating he wouldn’t “commit to voting for it until he sees the final legislation.” Roll Call reports today that McCain is “declining to embrace” his own legislation:

The campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) is declining to embrace McCain’s own 1998 tobacco bill, legislation that would have raised taxes to the tune of $516 billion over 25 years. … Asked repeatedly last week whether McCain still backs the bill and if he thought it was a good idea, senior adviser Douglas Holtz-Eakin declined to answer directly.

But he noted that some of the aims of the legislation did not pan out as hoped for after the tobacco industry and the states settled on their own. … And McCain today does not support raising taxes on cigarettes, his adviser said.

In 1998, however, McCain supported a $1.10-per-pack tax hike. “I still regret we did not succeed,” he said last October. Throughout his campaign, he has been touting his support for the 1998 legislation, even running an advertisement on the matter:

Only McCain has taken on big tobacco, drug companies, fought corruption in both parties.

Watch it:

McCain’s website cites a David Brooks column stating that “in 1998, McCain championed anti-smoking legislation that faced furious opposition from the tobacco lobby.” At Lance Armstrong’s Livestrong Summit, McCain said “the influence of the tobacco companies” on Congress caused his 1998 bill to fail.


McCain’s flip-flop suggests he is pandering to his anti-tax base, after catching heat from conservatives for saying that “payroll tax increases” were not “off the table” regarding Social Security. “There are a number of things in McCain’s record — including the tobacco bill — that give conservatives pause,” according to a “leading conservative strategist” interviewed by Roll Call.

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