Nic Fix

Posted May 18, 2007 at 6:41pm

Correction Appended

The tiniest and oftentimes most politically naive tobacco companies have long relied on Big Tobacco to carry their, well, butts on Capitol Hill.

But not now.

The little guys, 325 strong, have banded together as Small Tobacco Manufacturers for Fairness. They are fighting a bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration authority over their products and could, they argue, severely limit their marketing practices — putting them at a distinct disadvantage against their big brothers, namely Altria, which supports the FDA bill. [IMGCAP(1)]

One lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, is getting a nicotine infusion as some of the coalition’s members light up with the Democratic-run shop. Those new clients include National Tobacco, IDC Of Kentucky, Dosal Tobacco Co., S&M Brands and Xcaliber International.

“If new legislation is enacted, then the small companies want to make sure they are able to compete,” said Podesta’s John Scofield.

Many of the smaller tobacco companies argue that Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, supports the bill, in part, because it would limit the marketing of lesser-known cigarette brands and thus help them corner the market.

The little companies, Scofield said, “represent a lot of jobs. There’s a great economic impact for mainly small, rural areas.”

For one, S&M Brands, maker of Bailey’s, is the largest employer in a four-county area in Virginia, according to Scofield.

Crisis Averted? In the 48 hours last week after House Democrats unveiled their lobbying reform bill and before the House Judiciary Committee removed an expanded lobbying ban, headhunter Ivan Adler’s phone was ringing off the hook.

The callers? Would-be lobbyists, who are still burnishing their credentials as staffers on Capitol Hill. Those callers decided that if the ban, or cooling-off period, were to be extended from one year to two, they were going to get out while the gettin’s still good.

“People got real jittery about it,” said the McCormick Group’s Adler, who received five calls from Democratic and GOP staffers. “A two-year ban hits them harder in the pocketbook.”

That’s because firms and companies likely would find it difficult paying fresh-off-the-Hill lobbyists huge amounts if

those former aides have to sit on the sidelines for a full 24 months.

House Members scuttled the provisions after hearing from staffers and Members, whose own post-Congressional salaries no doubt factored into the mix.

Adler said a two-year ban “does limit the pool of applicants” who will take Hill jobs.

Kennedy Nephew on the Hill. Actor and author Christopher Kennedy Lawford had been clean and sober for about 15 years when he was diagnosed in 2001 with hepatitis C, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

“I had no idea the behavior I had engaged in in my youth could potentially kill me 20 years later,” said Lawford, who believes he contracted the blood-borne disease through intravenous and inhalant drug use.

Lawford was lucky. His physician detected it in time, and after treatment he has been virus-free for more than five years, he said.

Now he’s determined that others also will get the information they need to guard against this “silent epidemic,” which often is symptomless, before it’s too late.

This Tuesday, Lawford, son of Rat Packer Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy Lawford and the nephew of former President John F. Kennedy, will address a breakfast for House staff in the Rayburn Building and a luncheon for Senate staff in the Russell Building on “The Hepatitis C Epidemic at a Critical Crossroads: Facts and Solutions.”

Since last fall, when Lawford joined the national education campaign Hep C STAT! (Stop, Test And Treat), he’s been traveling the country to raise awareness and to counteract the stigma often associated with hepatitis C. It’s not just “drug addicts and prison inmates” who are at risk but also those who had blood transfusions prior to 1992 and health care providers, he said of a disease that affects about 4 million Americans.

Tuesday’s events, put on by the Hepatitis C Caring Ambassadors Program as part of Hepatitis Awareness Month, are underwritten in part by Roche, the health care company that also is behind Hep C Stat! Lawford said he is compensated by Roche, which manufactures both diagnostic tests and drugs for hepatitis C, for his time.

While on the Hill, Lawford will address his support for the Hepatitis C Epidemic Control and Prevention Act, which he said would authorize $300 million over four years for things such as education, research and testing. The bill, which Roche has backed, was introduced in the House and Senate in the 108th and 109th Congresses, and Lawford said he expects to see it reintroduced in the Senate “within a month.”

“I spoke with the HELP Committee the other day, and they are trying to get to it,” said Lawford, who plans to meet with Members while on the Hill. Lawford’s uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, will reintroduce the bill with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) as the lead Republican co-sponsor.

When the 52-year-old Lawford, who resides in Los Angeles, isn’t busy educating others about the disease, he’s working on his film career — he’ll appear in “Slipstream” with Anthony Hopkins in September — and on a couple of books. Tuesday afternoon he plans to interview Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), a recovering alcoholic, for a tome he’s writing titled “Moments of Clarity,” which will explore the connection between spiritual epiphanies and recovery. Lawford said he’s already interviewed his cousin, Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), who has battled depression and substance abuse, for the book.

And Lawford’s other literary undertaking? Well, let’s just say it’s a slightly unusual subject choice for someone who hails from a family whose men have never had much trouble attracting the opposite sex.

“It’s basically about a male character’s search for understanding women,” said Lawford, who is married. “I’m learning more everyday.”

K Street Moves. The lobbying firm Heather Podesta + Partners has added Eric Rosen, a former counsel to Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.).

• The Poker Players Alliance recently scored an ace, snagging John Pappas, formerly of Dittus Communications. In his new role as the alliance’s vice president of government relations, Pappas will coordinate efforts to establish licensed and regulated poker — for both online and offline players — in the United States.

• Brendon Weiss, most recently a Congressional liaison at the Securities and Exchange Commission and a former legislative director for Rep. Vito Fossella (R-N.Y.), has joined the lobbying and consulting firm Porterfield & Lowenthal.

• Qorvis Communications has hired W. John Moore, a former senior vice president for the Hawthorn Group and one-time columnist at National Journal magazine, as a managing director.

Correction: May 30, 2007
The name of S&M Brands product, Bailey’s, was misspelled.