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E-cigYou’ve got to hand it to the tobacco corporations and their high-priced lobbyists; when it comes to deceptive messaging and tactics, no one does it better than the merchants of death.  Apparently, nearly a century of practice really does make perfect in developing lies and half-truths and massaging them into feel-good media messages and legislation.

Consider the latest case in point in North Carolina. Big tobacco is currently ramming through legislation in both houses of the General Assembly that sounds as if it is all about motherhood and apple pie. The bill (which as been introduced and advanced in both the Senate and the House at the behest of the industry) operates under the title: “Prohibit E-Cigarette Sales to Minors.” 

“Electronic cigarettes” of “E-Cigarettes,”  as you probably have heard, are just the latest  tool for delivering life-threatening poison (i.e. addictive nicotine) to humans. E-cigs are already being advertised throughout the country as a hip and semi-safe alternative to traditional cigarettes. They’re already finding their way into schools and other places young people look for ways to be cool.   

Prohibiting their sale to kids sounds like a good idea, huh?

Unfortunately, Read More

lungsNorth Carolinians won’t be breathing easier any time soon. Yesterday, the House failed to pass a measure that would restrict smoking in public and work places. The bill (HB 259) sponsored by Rep. Hugh Holliman failed on a vote of 61:55.

In addition to battling second-hand smoke indoors, North Carolinians are battling increased particle pollution outdoors. A new report, “American Lung Association State of the Air: 2007 ” shows a troubling trend of higher soot levels in the eastern US.

Particle pollution comes from many sources. The particles are usually a complex mixture that can include ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals, and aerosols.  In the eastern U.S., many particles come from power plants that burn coal to produce electricity. In the western U.S., many come from diesel buses, trucks, and heavy equipment, as well as agriculture and wood burning.

The report gives 4 North Carolina counties a failing grade for particle pollution: Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake. Air quality in other areas of the state was only slightly better. People most sensitive to poor air quality are children and teens, the elderly, people with asthma and other lung diseases and even healthy people who work or exercise outdoors. In North Carolina, 6.4 million people are at risk of having lung problems as a result of poor air quality.

“The increased particle pollution in the East is a particularly troubling trend, because exposure to particle pollution can not only take years off your life, it can  threaten your life immediately,” said Terri E. Weaver, PhD, RN, American Lung Association Chair.

Rep. Holliman and the other legislators who supported the smoking ban should be commended for their efforts to protect our air quality and our health. Hopefully, they will continue with their efforts. The state needs to do everything in its power to curb air pollution, indoors and outdoors so we can all breath easier.

kids smokingThe fate of a bill before the U.S. Senate's health committee is a perfect example of our broken democracy. The bipartisan "Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act" would allow the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the advertising, content, and sale of tobacco. Read all about it here. An analysis of politicians who support the bill and those who oppose it reveals much about the squalid system of campaign finance in America. More about that later.

Let me say right up front that I believe the tobacco industry has much to answer for. When used correctly, their product is consistently lethal and the government's Center for Disease Control has the grim statistics to prove it. Their tip sheet has excellent up to date information, but the most important is:

"Annually 1 in 5 United States deaths, or 438,000, are caused by tobacco use (more than murder, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicide, illegal drug use, or HIV infection; combined").

I don't begrudge an adult's right to smoke in isolation (If isolation sounds too extreme to you, then read the National Cancer Institute's report on secondhand smoke.) However, can't we at least agree that we should do everything we can to keep this deadly habit-forming product away from kids? Apparently we cannot agree. Consider: Opponents of the bill are concerned with the tobacco industry's ability to "develop new markets" ( that means you, kids), "attract female smokers" (using fruit- or candy-flavored cigarettes adorned with a fuchsia colored camel), and manipulate nicotine levels (because lower levels could hurt consumer "acceptance" of products, lowering sales).

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina is once again spearheading the opposition against regulation of the tobacco industry. He boasts that he can "eat up 5 weeks of the Senate's legislative business" with procedural games to block the bill. You have to admire Burr's perseverance, if not his priorities. He is joined in opposition by Senator Elizabeth Dole and NC Reps. Mike McIntyre, Robin Hayes, and Virginia Foxx.

Unsurprisingly, if you follow the money of tobacco industry contributions to Congress (courtesy of The Center For Responsive Politics) you will find Senator Burr's name at the very top. In his election in 2004 he received more than twice as much money as any other candidate for Congress. Similarly, in 2002 Sen. Dole was number three, and in 2006 Reps. Hayes, McIntyre, and Foxx were numbers 10, 13, and 19 respectively.

To a person each of these politicians would tell you their votes are not for sale. They are pro-business, or pro-smokers rights, or pro-family farmers, or pro-tobacco jobs. Possibly, but it seems much more likely that this is about people making money (or receiving contributions) at the expense of someone's health. As tobacco company internal memos have confirmed, that someone is usually a teenager between the ages of 13-17, the age when most smokers started. This may sound harsh, and it's only my personal opinion, but I don't care how many people are employed by R. J. Reynolds in Winston-Salem, or on tobacco farms or in tobacco warehouses down East. The Surgeon General‘s report linking smoking and cancer was published in 1964. Think how many millions of lives would have been saved if we had put reasonable restraints in place at that time. Well, now is the time.

Never forget this simple fact: the tobacco industry wants to convince your children to use their lethal product. This is not about persuading the shop foreman to switch from Marlboro to Camels. Implementing this bill would make it only slightly harder to recruit new smokers, but could save many lives. North Carolinians should urge our legislators to support our health, and protect our children, by supporting this bill.