понедельник, 29 марта 2010 г.

Smoke gets in your eyes

Despite all the evidence out there, people are still smoking.

IN THE 1940s, smoking cigarettes was socially acceptable – even considered cool, if you believe some of the ads from way back then. For example, one ad for Camel cigarettes read: “More doctors smoke CAMELS than any other cigarette!” Accompanying the claim was a picture of a handsome doctor (you can tell he’s a doctor because he’s wearing a white coat) holding a cigarette in his hand. The message? Beautiful, intelligent, successful people are smoking Camels, so why aren’t you?

Moreover, if your doctor smokes Camels, they can’t possibly be bad for you. I mean to say, this is the guy responsible for your health. And if he thinks a Camel is better than, say, a Marlboro, who can argue with that? A couple of Camels a day might even help that hacking cough you’ve had for a while, the one that causes you to bring up blood and pieces of lung tissue.

Even if such ads were still allowed today, no doctor would endorse such a product, simply because we all know better now. Seventy years later, we all know that smoking cigarettes is bad for your health. We all know that stinking hair, and nicotine-stained teeth and fingers are neither sexy nor as cool as some would have you think. We all know that most doctors don’t look like movie stars.

I started smoking when I was 15. And no, I didn’t smoke Camels. I smoked a brand called Player’s. There was no sexy advertising, not that I can remember, but it was the cigarette that my father smoked – or at least one of them.

My father smoked three packets of cigarettes a day: two packets that guaranteed that his lungs were perpetually clogged with tar, and a packet of menthols. The menthols were for his health.

You see, way back then, we were slowly becoming aware that smoking could cause all sorts of nasty cancers, but most people chose to ignore the warnings.

My father did know better, but those menthols cigarettes were supposed to cancel out the ill-effects of the other cigarettes.

He didn’t know it at the time, but those menthol cigarettes were just as harmful as any other cigarette around. Still, that soothing menthol flavour had him fooled.

Even when he was diagnosed with lung cancer, he continued to smoke his menthol cigarettes. He would spend half an hour every morning coughing violently in an attempt to clear his lungs, followed by several menthols with his cup of coffee.

I didn’t start smoking because of my father’s influence. If anything, his habit disgusted me. During the winter months, when all the windows and doors in my house were firmly closed against the elements, the living room was often full of smoke, the result of one man and his 60 cigarettes. And even when he wasn’t at home, that room reeked of stale nicotine.

Every spring, my father would open the windows, don a pair of overalls, and paint the living room walls. I often watched as he applied the virgin white paint, which seemed all the whiter against the yellowing walls.

It probably never occurred to him that the inside of his lungs had suffered a much worse fate. And it certainly never crossed my mind that I would be yellowing walls of my own in years to come.

Long before my father’s cancer was diagnosed, peer pressure induced me to smoke for the first time. I’d just moved to a new school, where two of the most popular girls in my year had befriended me.

I was so grateful for the friendship and eager to be accepted, so when they offered me a cigarette one day after class, I accepted without even thinking about the consequences. The first inhalation almost caused me to throw up, but I persevered.

I smoked for almost 15 years before deciding to give it up. But to this day, I regret that first puff.

Despite all the evidence out there, people are still smoking. And it’s not just middle-aged people, people who didn’t know any better way back then, who are indulging. A lot of young people are taking up the habit. Like what the heck do we have to tell them about cigarettes to stop them from starting in the first place? Of course it doesn’t help that Malaysia has been dubbed the “indirect advertising capital” of the world.

Seventy years from now, we might look back on the indirect advertising campaigns that promote cigarettes today and find them equally as insidious as the Camel ad of the 1940s.

I sure hope so.

понедельник, 15 марта 2010 г.

Tax tobacco

Discussions regarding revenue in the state of Louisiana are met with deep suspicion by legislators and statewide officials fearing retribution from voters. While the prospect of higher taxes intimidates any voter, legislators and governors are wary, rightfully so, about the impact of tax policies upon attempts to attract future businesses and residents.

Nonetheless, I have a proposal that the Louisiana legislature should adopt that will increase revenues, decrease non-discretionary state expenditures, decrease the number of cuts to state services, and increase the quality of life for Louisianans — increase the tobacco tax.

Non-smokers in Louisiana pay a "hidden tax" on the tobacco usage of other Louisianans. About 23.5 percent of Louisianans smoke, which is the 11th-highest smoking rate in the nation. Louisianans spend $1.4 billion per year in smoking-related medical costs; the state of Louisiana spends $663 million per year in smoking-related Medicaid costs.

Smoking imposes a "hidden tax" of $197.86 per person per year on Louisianans. Each pack of cigarettes costs Louisiana $1.72 in Medicaid spending; each pack of cigarettes sold in Louisiana imposes an additional charge of $3.83 being spent on health care.

Tobacco usage places an undue tax burden upon non-smokers in Louisiana. Tobacco taxes would decrease the hidden taxes paid by non-smokers.

Tobacco taxes are popular. Public opinion polls demonstrate voters, whether smokers or non-smokers, support tobacco taxes.

The tobacco tax is supported by low-income voters and high-income voters, Democratic and Republicans.

In 61 polls conducted across 39 states, majorities of Democrats, Republicans and Independents expressed support for increasing tobacco taxes and a preference for candidates who support an increase in tobacco taxes over candidates who oppose them. In Tennessee, 38 percent of Republicans said they would support a Democrat who supports a tobacco tax over a Republican who opposes a tobacco tax.

Even in tobacco-dependent South Carolina, 71 percent of the voters expressed support for a $1 increase in their tobacco tax. Voters do not support cuts to education or health care in order to balance the budget. Tobacco taxes are popular with voters; voters will punish candidates who oppose tobacco taxes.
Tobacco taxes are supported by Republicans. Last year, Florida ($1), Hawaii (60 cents) and Mississippi (50 cents) approved tobacco tax increases. Tobacco taxes were signed into law by Republican Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, which raised its tobacco tax for the first time since 1985. Barbour remains as popular as ever and is even being mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012. Arizona, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, and South Dakota all increased their tobacco tax in recent years.

Tobacco taxes are not as regressive as other sales taxes. Studies show tobacco tax increases cause more low-income smokers than high-income smokers to quit. Tobacco taxes increase revenue, reduce Medicaid expenditures and lead to smoking cessation. Tobacco taxes behave like tax cuts because individuals who stop smoking pay less in taxes and have more money to spend on other goods and services.

The tobacco tax in Louisiana is embarrassingly low. The average state cigarette tax is $1.27 per pack; however, in Louisiana the state cigarette tax is 36 cents per pack, 8 percent for cigars, 33 percent for smoking tobacco, and 20 percent for smokeless tobacco.

Louisiana ranks 46th out of 50th. Louisiana could increase the cigarette tax by 90 cents and still fall below the national average.

Louisiana should increase the cigarette tax to match the national average and increase the tax rate assessed on cigars, smoking tobacco and smokeless tobacco by 10 percent. This would generate more than $300 million per year for the state of Louisiana; the state could do a lot with an extra $300 million. This figure does not include the savings created by decreasing smoking-related Medicaid costs.

Tobacco taxes are smart politics. Tobacco taxes are healthy politics. Tobacco taxes are right politics. I am perplexed why the governor doesn't see this.

Dr. Joshua Stockley is a professor of political science at ULM. This column is taken from his recent commentary, "Tobacco & Fat: How More Taxes Can Be Smart Politics," written for the Louisiana Progress Journal produced by the Louisiana Progress Initiative.

вторник, 9 марта 2010 г.

Senecas See Comeback Over Sale of Cigarettes

There is a relatively short list of people who like mail-order cigarettes: teenagers, adults evading sales taxes and the Seneca Nation of Indians of western New York, which dominates the national market.Even the big tobacco companies oppose the practice, in part to stamp out the Senecas’ competition. And with the industry’s strange-bedfellow backing, a bill to block the shipment of cigarettes passed the House of Representatives last spring by a vote of 397 to 11. A Senate committee approved it unanimously last fall.

But then the Senecas, who control a gambling and cigarette empire that brings in more than $1 billion a year, began a campaign of back-room lobbying and public political threats. That now appears to have shut down the legislation and kept the tribe in the cigarette business, a case study in the power of a well-financed special interest to thwart what had seemed to be a national consensus.

“Isn’t that the way things go in the American system?” asked Richard Nephew, co-chairman of the Seneca Nation’s foreign relations committee. “It is something new for us to actively get involved in the American political process,” he said. “But we are trying to learn what works in America, and I guess making political contributions is something that works.”

As recently as December, a ban on mail-order cigarettes called the PACT Act — for Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking — looked all but certain to become law. After the Senate Judiciary Committee approved the House measure, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, prepared the bill for passage on the floor. No senator has publicly opposed the legislation.

But at the last minute, two or three Democratic senators told party leaders privately that they might block the bill, according to senior Senate Democratic aides. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The Senecas and their lobbyists said they did not know who their Senate protectors were. Records of the tribe’s campaign contributions offered few clues; the only significant donation was a $15,000 check to the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The Senecas’ apparent victory — at least for now — is a comeback of sorts. Five years ago, the Indian nation lost much of its business when Eliot Spitzer, then attorney general of New York, pressured private carriers like FedEx and UPS to stop delivering cigarettes in the interest of keeping them away from children. That forced the Senecas to rely on the United States Postal Service, which declined to join the ban. The tribe’s sales fell to about 12 million cartons a year from a peak of about 30 million cartons in 2004, according to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance.

Despite its professed inexperience in Washington, the Seneca Nation is well represented on K Street. Last year, the tribe spent more than $300,000 in reported fees to three lobbying firms: the powerhouse Akin Gump; Holland & Knight, where its lobbyists include Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a former senator and American Indian; and Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal, which represents many Indian nations and led the Senecas’ side of the cigarette fight. Sonnenschein reported that its fees from the Senecas jumped threefold to $110,000 in the fourth quarter as the battle heated up.

The Senecas and their lobbyists won the support of other Indian nations and advocacy groups, including the National Congress of American Indians, by attacking the proposed legislation as an intrusion on Indian sovereignty. The Senecas charged that it would give states powers to police Indian land; its Congressional sponsors dispute that.

“Conferring jurisdiction to the states — that should be very troubling to every Indian tribe,” Mr. Nephew said.

On Capitol Hill, the lobbyists distributed memorandums painting the legislation as a ploy by big tobacco companies to scapegoat American Indians for teenage smoking, beating back low-price competition in the process. (The tribe’s online Seneca Smokeshop specializes in Indian-made and other “economy” brands.)

And in hard-pressed western New York, the Senecas warned that the proposed ban could cost 1,000 jobs in the cigarette business. “An attack on the Seneca Nation is an attack on the economy of western New York,” J. C. Seneca, who runs a tobacco business and is co-chairman of the tribe’s foreign relations committee, told The Buffalo News. With its cigarette sales and casinos, Mr. Seneca said, the Indian nation was “a $1.1 billion economic engine” that would use its tobacco profits for new investments and jobs.

By mid-December, the campaign had won two important converts. Two western New York congressmen, Brian Higgins and Eric Massa, both Democrats, wrote letters to the state’s two senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, also Democrats, urging them to block Senate passage. Mr. Higgins and Mr. Massa had voted for the bill in the House, but they said the Senecas’ arguments about the economic impact had changed their minds.

“I do not believe that western New York can afford any more job losses,” Mr. Higgins wrote to the senators. (Mr. Massa, who announced this week that he was retiring, echoed the sentiment.)

The next month, the Senecas sent a warning in the form of an electronic billboard along an upstate New York highway. “Don’t let the PACT Act destroy western New York’s economy,” the billboard declared. “Tell Senators Schumer and Gillibrand No.”

The nation, which has fought off years of New York State efforts to tax its cigarettes, had already dedicated a $1 million war chest for political retaliation against any New York State official who crossed the tribe. Also in January, the Seneca Nation’s foreign relations committee approved a proposal to spend $250,000 opposing Ms. Gillibrand’s campaign for election this fall; it will be her first statewide race because she was appointed last year to fill the seat left open by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Both New York senators are sponsors of the bill, and both said through spokesmen that they had not worked behind the scenes to slow its passage. Matt Canter, a spokesman for Ms. Gillibrand, said she supported economic development but not at the price of enabling teenage smoking.

Seneca officials and their lobbyists said the tribe tried to prevent under-age sales, in some cases by requiring faxed proof of age. Critics said faxed identification was easy to fake or borrow. The Senecas noted that online wine merchants use private carriers like UPS and FedEx that allow them to require the signature of an adult, but the Seneca cigarette dealers must rely on the United States Postal Service, which does not offer that option.

“It seems very discriminatory, as if they were targeting the Seneca Nation,” Mr. Nephew of the Senecas said of the federal legislation.

Senate Democratic leaders could still revive the measure, perhaps by attaching it to some other bill. Republicans have talked of pushing forward, possibly to make trouble for Ms. Gillibrand. But even if it did pass, Mr. Nephew said, it would ban only cigarette shipments and not cigars. “I guess there are a lot of cigar smokers in Washington and places where powerful people hang out,” Mr. Nephew said. “It appears that they are protecting their own habit.”

понедельник, 1 марта 2010 г.

Intruders smash glass doors, take cigarettes and liquor from Port Sanilac-area businesses

Sanilac County sheriff’s deputies are investigating a series of business break-ins.

Intruders smashed glass doors to force their way into at least four businesses along M-25 (Lakeshore) from southern Worth Township into the village of Port Sanilac, said Lt. Robert Willis.

Among the businesses that were entered early Saturday are Sunrise gas station and party store and Lakeview Donut Shop in Worth Township, Pine Hill Market in Sanilac Township and The Willis’s Market in Port Sanilac.

The culprits made off with cartons of cigarettes, liquor and beer from all four merchants plus a small amount of cash from one of the businesses.