Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke

Up in Smoke

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Sept. 17 1997 6:38 AM

Up in Smoke

The unveiling of President Clinton's stance on the proposed national tobacco deal leads at the Washington Post and is the top national story at the Los Angeles Times (and the second lead at the New York Times). Janet Reno's decision to shake up the Department of Justice team investigating campaign-finance irregularities leads at the NYT (and is on the front page at the WP). USA Today leads with a bull-market evergreen: "Good inflation news boosts stocks, bonds."

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The Post says the Clinton tobacco stand is: yes to a national agreement, no to this one because it doesn't include steep enough penalties on cigarette makers for failing to meet targets for reducing teen smoking, and because he wants guarantees that the FDA will have broad authority to regulate nicotine. But (perhaps applying Lesson No. 1 from his stab at health care reform--he who takes the initiative has the most to lose) Clinton will not propose a bill with these features. Instead, aides say, he will wait for bills to emerge from Congress and try to influence them.

USAT's second lead states that, according to brand-new research, highly drug-resistant strains of bacteria that cause middle ear infections, sinusitis, and pneumonia are twice as common as they were a year ago. And the paper points to the most likely cause of the trend with its citation of a new Journal of the American Medical Association paper stating that doctors often prescribe antibiotics for colds and bronchitis caused by viruses even though antibiotics are ineffective against viruses. The story is also on the LAT front and inside at the WP. "We were surprised," the lead researcher for the JAMA paper tells the LAT, "that one in five antibiotics [was] prescribed for conditions that they don't even help." Could it be that this story, together with the fen-phen debacle, will focus national attention on promiscuous prescribing?

The WP's inside-the-Beltway columnist Al Kamen brings news of a seminar being put on by a top D.C. PR firm, Burson-Marsteller. The purpose? To teach government officials how to avoid, override, and even take advantage of line-item-veto threats to their budgets. The firm says in its promotional copy that bureaucrats should strongly consider spending "taxpayer money" to attend.

This past summer, the NYT sounded a front-page alarm over the new-tax-law-driven expenses incurred by people selling luxury homes. Today it's the Wall Street Journal's turn to report on a nonpressing economic problem: "Confusion abounds," says the paper's "Tax Report," "as many financial advisers apparently aren't aware that the new tax law killed an excise tax that forced people with $1 million or more in retirement savings to carefully time withdrawals."

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The NYT has an op-ed today by a medical school professor that lasers right into his profession's kuh-ching! mentality. It features multiple-choice questions with answers from a recent medical ethics exam given to interns and residents. A sample: "You receive regular surgical referrals from a colleague who is fellowship trained in nonsurgical sports medicine. He suggests that he should receive some reimbursement for these procedures. Which of the following payment arrangements is most acceptable? 1) Pay him an agreed amount per referral. 2) Pay him annually on a contractual basis. 3) Have him scrub [prepare for surgery] and bill an assistant's fee. 4) Share an office and you pay overhead. Or 5) Establish a private corporation, with both physicians on salary." The "correct" answer is 5). "The idea," observes the professor, "that you might tell a colleague that a patient has a right to expect that a doctor will send him to the best surgeon, and that the doctor's decision will not be based on whether he has a financial stake in the referral, is not even an option."