EDITORIAL: Tobacco Becomes a Popular Target
Tobacco took multiple hits Thursday.
First, the state House of Representatives voted 72-45 in favor of a bill banning smoking in all restaurants and many other businesses. The bill was watered down somewhat by allowing smokers to have their way in establishments where anyone under 18 is prohibited entry. That leaves bars and clubs for smokers.
Then, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to turn regulation of tobacco products over to the Food and Drug Administration. This one passed 298-112.
Atop these woes for the tobacco industry, an additional federal tax on tobacco products went into effect Thursday. Revenue from this 62-cent tax is destined to finance the Children's Health Insurance Program. Gov. Beverly Perdue's state budget proposal calls for adding $1 to the existing 35-cent tax on cigarettes, along with a 5 percent surcharge on alcoholic drinks, all expected to plug a $507 million hole in the state's gaping deficit.
Times Have Changed
With the exception of the federal tax increase, these blows to the tobacco industry are not yet law, but it appears likely some aspects of these measures will come to pass.
Fifty years ago, none of these measures would have had a chance. Tobacco was a major economic force in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South, and its products enjoyed worldwide acceptance. At that time, cries that tobacco is bad for your health were largely attributed to a few cranky eccentrics.
Today, science has proved that those eccentrics were onto something. Not only has science proved that smoking kills, but proof is also piling up about the detrimental effects of secondhand smoke on others.
We know smoking is not good for us but cringe at the prospect of wiping out an industry that has contributed so heavily to the economy. If only there were a safe use for a plant that grows so abundantly in North Carolina soil.
The Pilot supports a smoke-free environment. Our own plant is smoke-free. Smoking and other tobacco uses are now prohibited on all county property, and many other businesses have banned tobacco from their campuses. The populace is beginning to accept the prohibition.
The state ban on smoking in restaurants is a good thing. People can be seated in special sections, but science has yet to figure out a way to detour smoke effectively away from nonsmoking areas.
FDA Bill Has Flaws
On the other hand, that FDA bill passed by the U.S. House Thursday is a murky thing and it needs retooling, if not extinction. For starters, the FDA has done a poor job of protecting the food supply in recent years, and we're not reassured about what may happen once tobacco is added to its long list of responsibilities.
Our preference is a bill put together by our U.S. senators, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan. Their bill would establish a separate agency to regulate the manufacture, marketing and use of tobacco products. Funded by user fees, this agency would be responsible for enforcing existing and new tobacco laws.
Congressman Howard Coble voted against the FDA bill. He too thinks the FDA is ill equipped to assume jurisdiction of a product as complex as tobacco. As he points out, tobacco is still a legal product.
North Carolina, which owes much to the tobacco industry, now must accept some responsibilities for its problems. But let's take a commonsense approach to solutions.
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