Cigarette makers defend menthol
Tobacco companies defended menthol cigarettes to a U.S. advisory panel Wednesday as health advocates called for a government ban on the popular flavoring.
About 19 million Americans smoke menthol cigarettes. Health advocates say the flavor masks the harshness of tobacco, making it easier to start smoking and harder to quit.
Manufacturers told a Food and Drug Administration panel that adding menthol did not make a cigarette more harmful or addictive.
“Overall the weight of scientific evidence indicates menthol does not change the inherent health risks of cigarette smoking,” said James Dillard, a senior vice president at Altria, which sells menthol versions of its Marlboro brand cigarettes.
The panel of outside experts is studying the health effects of menthol and is due to submit a report by March 2011. The FDA eventually could ban menthol, although some activists and industry analysts doubt that will happen. Stronger warnings or advertising limits are other possibilities.
Barriers discriminate against foreign goods
China retains a raft of non-tariff barriers, including tax rebates and quotas, that discriminate against foreign manufactured and farm goods, the U.S. Trade Representative’s official said in its annual report to Congress on Wednesday.
The report, along with two new spotlights on technical barriers to manufactured goods and farm exports, come at a time of rising economic tensions with China over Beijing’s exchange rate policy and an import substitution campaign.
“Eight years after China’s WTO accession, many U.S. industries complain that they face significant nontariff barriers to trade,” the USTR said in its report.
The reports put China and other countries that don’t live up to their end of trade deals on notice that the United States will not tolerate such trade practices.
President Obama faces intense political pressure to label China, in a semiannual report slated for April 15, as a currency manipulator for undervaluing its currency by up to 40 percent. An artificially weak currency makes it more difficult for U.S. firms to compete.
The administration is anxious to defuse general opposition to trade deals that many voters blame for the loss of American jobs.
Brown’s manager helping N.H. Senate candidate
BOSTON | The woman who helped Republican Scott Brown take Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s seat is jumping ship to help another long-shot candidate in New Hampshire.
Former campaign manager Beth Lindstrom has resigned as state director for the new senator’s Massachusetts operation to work for New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Jim Bender.
He is vying with Kelly Ayotte, Ovide Lamontagneand and Bill Binnie in the primary to replace Republican Sen. Judd Gregg. Rep. Paul W. Hodes is seeking the seat on the Democratic side.
Mr. Brown said in a statement Tuesday that Miss Lindstrom’s “leadership and hard work will be missed.”
Word of Miss Lindstrom’s job change was first reported by the Boston Herald.
Audit: Costly computer upgrade drags further
A Justice Department audit has found the FBI’s long-delayed computer upgrade is getting slower and costing more.
The FBI’s Sentinel program was launched to build a paperless case management system, costing $425 million. It was supposed to be completed in December.
The system has faced numerous delays and extra costs since. An audit released Wednesday by Justice Department inspector general Glenn Fine said the bureau won’t even guess at when it will be done or how much it will cost, though they say it will be more than $451 million.
The FBI has struggled for years to modernize its computer systems. Bureau Director Robert S. Mueller III recently told Congress he personally works on the Sentinel project every week, but that has not gotten it back on schedule.
The FBI said in a statement that the issues with Sentinel have not hampered investigations, and said the bureau is in talks with the contractor about how to fix the problems.
Court: Defendants entitled to immigration advice
Immigrants have a constitutional right to be told by their lawyers whether pleading guilty to a crime could lead to their deportation, the Supreme Court said Wednesday.
The high court’s ruling extends the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee of “effective assistance of counsel” in criminal cases to immigration advice, especially in cases that involve deportation.
“The severity of deportation - the equivalent of banishment or exile - only underscores how critical it is for counsel to inform her noncitizen client that he faces a risk of deportation,” said Justice John Paul Stevens, who wrote the opinion for the court.
The ruling came in the case of Jose Padilla, who was born in Honduras. Padilla asked the high court to throw out his 2001 guilty plea to drug charges in Kentucky, which made his deportation virtually mandatory.
Padilla, who has lived in the United States for more than 40 years as a legal permanent resident, said he asked his lawyer at the time whether a guilty plea would affect his immigration status and was told it wouldn’t. Padilla’s trial lawyer was wrong, and he now faces deportation.
His lawyer for the appeal told the Supreme Court that the incorrect information given Padilla was a violation of the Sixth Amendment right to “effective assistance of counsel.”
From wire dispatches and staff reports