(CNSNews.com) - The Association of American Physicians Thursday criticized President Clinton's proposal to fine tobacco companies based on the number of underage smokers as a precedent for pervasive and intrusive interference with all aspects of private life.
Dr. Jane Orient, Association President, said in a statement, "Concern about health does not justify using Third Reich measures against corporations engaged in a legal business. What's next? Fining auto makers for each speeding driver, nailing Hershey for every diabetic who eats a candy bar, or gouging McDonald's for all obese people who order a Big Mac?"
As part of the budget proposals he sent to Congress this week, Clinton wants tobacco manufacturers penalized $3,000 each year for every underage smoker -- if teen smoking is not cut in half by 2004.
"It is certainly our belief that the tobacco industry, through their marketing practices, could cut teen smoking," White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said.
However, Lockhart admitted that Clinton's proposal was fuzzy on issues such as how to deal with a cigarette maker who is making a sincere effort to reduce teen smoking. "Obviously there are some issues we will have to work out," he said.
Orient wondered, "How do we find every underage smoker without posting Big Brother in every home and on every street corner? And to impose punitive fines without benefit of reliable evidence, for behavior outside a company's control, without benefit of trial by jury or other rights, threatens the very foundations of our constitutional republic."
"If tobacco is so evil, why doesn't the government just outlaw it?" she asked. "For one thing, the government has a huge vested interest in having people continue to smoke so that its revenue stream will be uninterrupted. It could be that the government reaps more profit from this vice than cigarette makers do.
"This Clinton directive would set a precedent for pervasive and intrusive interference with all aspects of private life, including diet, exercise, recreation and sexual activities. Conduct Cop will be the next government job title," Orient said.
Many Republican lawmakers denounced Clinton's plan as another tax increase. At least one Democratic lawmaker agreed. Senator John Edwards (D-NC), said in a speech in Raleigh, North Carolina, "Piling additional taxes on the backs of North Carolina farmers and workers is not the right way to help our young people."