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President fires up a tobacco fight, takes aim at guns

President Clinton opened an election-year fight Friday over guns and cigarettes, proposing to fine the tobacco industry $3,000 for each teen smoker and crack down on firearm dealers whose weapons wind up in criminals' hands.

The double-barreled approach isn't likely to go far in Congress, which shelved administration measures last year for a 55-cent-a-pack tax on cigarettes and restrictions on gun show sales. But at a minimum, it will give Democrats campaign issues for their drive to win control of Congress and keep the White House.

Two days before his wife, Hillary, formally announces her Senate candidacy, the president went to Capitol Hill to give Democrats a pep talk.

Clinton's tobacco initiative was billed as an effort to cut teen smoking in half by making cigarettes more expensive and penalizing the tobacco industry.

The president's budget, to be released Monday, urges a 25-cent-a-pack tax increase. He also proposed accelerating an already approved 5-cent a pack tax increase to take effect on Oct. 1 instead of on Jan. 1, 2002.

Further, Clinton would penalize cigarettemakers $3,000 each year for every underage smoker if teen smoking is not cut in half by 2004.

Republicans denounced Clinton's plan as simply another tax increase.

In renewing his gun-control push, Clinton released a federal firearms study which found that about one percent of the gun dealers and pawnbrokers in America sell more than 57 percent of the guns used in crimes.

"Dealers whose guns most frequently wind up in criminals' hand will now be subject to intense scrutiny" by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Clinton said.

Guided by the study, the ATF will conduct "focused inspections" on about 1,000 of the 80,570 licensed dealers and pawnbrokers. The targeted dealers are those that have had 10 or more crime guns traced to them in 1999.

Federal law allows ATF to inspect dealers only once a year. Clinton asked Congress to remove those restriction and allow up to three visits per year.