Leader Blues

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

TOP STORY>>Beebe battles deadly tobacco lobby in ledge

By GARRICK FELDMAN
Leader editor-in-chief

Gov. Mike Beebe led a rally at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock on Monday for his proposed 56-cent tax increase on tobacco to pay for health services, including a statewide trauma system.

He called the rally to respond to propaganda by tobacco lobbyists who are up in arms over the tax bill that’s making its way through the state legislature.

In addition to paying for trauma centers, the $85 million raised in tax revenues could go toward better health care for smokers and nonsmokers.

Those programs are needed because Arkansas ranks seventh in the nation from smoking-related deaths: Tobacco kills about 4,900 Arkansans a year.

It’s usually the smokers who put the worst strain on health care because of their smoking-related illnesses: Lung cancer, heart disease, liver failure, sexual dysfunction, just to name a few.

If the bill passes, the tax would rise to $1.15 per pack, nearly double the current rate but close to the national average of $1.18.

The lobbyists Phillip Morris has sent to Arkansas look like siding salesmen, but they’re blowing smoke to obscure their real intentions: To keep people hooked on the deadliest product openly available in stores. Their junk would be banned if it just came out today on the market.

The lobbyists and their mouthpieces pretend they’re the friends of working people who are already taxed too much. But what these merchants of death fear is that too many people will give up the stinking, deadly habit if it gets too expensive.

Phillip Morris and its lobbyists are all over the state fighting the tax.

The tobacco industry has good reason to worry: Every time the tax goes up, hundreds of thousands of people quit and lead healthier lives and live longer.

Even Mississippi — where Gov. Haley Barbour, a former tobacco lobbyist, has long opposed raising the tax — is about to adopt a $1 a pack increase.

Since 2002, 44 states and the District of Columbia have raised cigarette taxes, increasing the average state cigarette tax from 43.4 cents to $1.184 a pack.

Consider these statistics:

– Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes lowers youth smoking about 7 percent and overall smoking about 4 percent. About 84,000 Arkansans have quit smoking in the last six years. That figure could double in the next five years if the Legislature approves the tax hike.

– Higher cigarette taxes bring in more revenue even as more people quit because the hardcore smokers can’t give it up.

– In nationwide polls, Democrats, Republicans and independents overwhelmingly support higher taxes on this deadly product.

Smokers should pay more for the cost of health care. They’re a terrible burden on the healthcare system.

Did I say the lobbyists represent Phillip Morris, the most reviled name in business before the financial meltdown? Well, Phillip Morris’ tobacco unit has changed its name to Altria Group, to hide its real business, which is to hook people to a terrible addiction before they die horrible deaths — lung cancer, heart disease, liver failure, you name it.

Osama Bin Laden couldn’t inflict worse torture on human beings.

The cigarette lobbyists represent the worst mass killers in history.

They’ve killed more people than Hitler, Stalin, Mao and all the wars in history combined.

Tobacco has killed hundreds of millions of smokers. Even the tobacco companies admit as much.

According to the Center for Tobacco Control Research at the University of California, Phillip Morris/Altria now acknowledges on its Web site “that cigarettes are addictive and dangerous — ending decades of denial. A genuinely responsible company, faced with its role in the deaths of millions, would — at minimum — stop marketing this addictive product that would not be allowed on the market if introduced today.”

Beebe’s legislation needs a three-fourths supermajority to pass. The governor knows how to count votes. He says passage is far from assured — but failure would mean victory for the killers.