S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, April 17, 2005
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/05.0417.smoke.htm


COMMENTARY
Time for state to develop policy about smoking
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

APRIL 17, 2005 - - With everything that's known about how dangerous smoking can be to one's health, it's kind of odd to consider the state of South Carolina really doesn't have a health policy involving tobacco.

"If it's a public policy, it's a well-concealed one," said Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston.

Instead of a coordinated policy that encompasses efforts on everything from working with tobacco farmers to grow alternative cash crops to an education effort to highlight the dangers of smoking, the state has a mish-mash approach at best. Just look at what's recently happened:

  • Cigarette tax increase. When economic times were bad over the last couple of budget cycles, there were serious efforts to increase the state's low 7-cent-per-pack cigarette tax to the national average of about 60 cents per pack. Talk about the increase, which would bring in about $180 million, didn't even make it to the table this year. In California, adult and teen smoking rates reportedly dropped dramatically over 15 years following a 25-cent-per-pack tax hike, 20 percent of which was dedicated to tobacco education programs.

  • Targeting youths. In our state where teen smoking is 36 percent, a bill by Rep. Scott Talley, R-Spartanburg, calls for criminal penalties for youths who possess tobacco. If caught with cigarettes, teenagers under 18 could get fines from $100 to $300. This seems to be a knuckleheaded approach because it addresses the tail end - - relatively defenseless kids who may be addicted to tobacco - - rather than the source of the problem - - the state's general acceptance of smoking.

  • Targeting public places. Another bill before the General Assembly would allow local governments to ban smoking in public places. While the measure may seem laudable on its face to people who want to go into restaurants without smelling tobacco smoke, McConnell rightly points out that the language of the proposal is too sweeping and may allow communities to regulate smoking in people's homes, which would be going too far.

These efforts, however, are ways to regulate or change behavior at the fringes. Something more is needed.

First, lawmakers need to have a serious discussion on whether they want to try to curb smoking rates as a state priority.

It would be smart to do so. By cutting smoking rates, there would be less of a burden on the state's health system because fewer people likely would get smoking-related illnesses. In a time when health care costs are soaring, this would help relieve stress on Medicaid programs and the state health plan.

Second, if lawmakers agree that curbing smoking is a priority, they could take a more comprehensive approach by concentrating on educational efforts to inform people about the dangers of smoking. Then citizens could make better informed choices.

ALSO THIS WEEK

McLEMORE'S WORLD: Allergy season is definitely here

FEEDBACK: On wedge politics

KEEPING TRACK

SCORECARD: Thumbs up/down and mixed reviews

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"We're doing very little, if any, in this area," McConnell said. "If you really want to have an impact on youth smoking or adult smoking, it has got to be through education."

That being said, why isn't the state using its funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to educate people about smoking? That's one of the main reasons it received more than $910 million in 2001 from securitizing its share of the agreement.

As of November, more than $573 million was in the state's Healthcare Tobacco Settlement Trust Fund. But instead of being used for anti-smoking education and efforts to help farmers find alternative crops such as nutraceuticals, it seems to have been used as a slush fund to reduce Medicaid and Medicare costs.

In fact, South Carolina ranks dead last in using its tobacco settlement monies for tobacco prevention efforts, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. In state budgets for last year and this year, no monies are targeted for tobacco prevention, even though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the state should spend between $23.9 million and $62 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program.

Bottom line: There's a source for money to fund tobacco prevention and education programs if lawmakers would use it properly. It would be smart to do so because by cutting smoking rates, the state would be lowering its health care costs down the road. Instead of legislating around the fringes, get a state policy that works.


RECENT COMMENTARY

McLEMORE'S WORLD
4/17: Allergy season is definitely here

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:


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FEEDBACK

4/10: Great piece on government priorities

To the editor:

Excellent priorities piece, Andy! (Commentary, 4/10) I'd add one more. What would Jesus do if 62,445 S.C. teens were already addicted to smoking nicotine, if magazines headed into school libraries were being purposefully flooded with tobacco ads (after two decades of selective binding technology), and point-of-sale tobacco ads hanging above candy racks at neighborhood convenience stores across SC were not there by chance?

If addiction to smoking nicotine truly is our state's #1 killer, and 90% of all new smokers are getting hooked are children or teens, what did it say about moral values when during 2004 our Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General each accepted thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the industry doing the killing? What does it say when both our Senate President and House Speaker have their hands permanently planted in a money jar filled with dependency, decay, disease and death?

What would Jesus do if it were against SC law for police to take cigarettes away from a twelve year-old smoker who was smoking while sharing them with other students just off school grounds? What would Jesus do if the fine for selling a lifetime of nicotine addiction to his children was only $25, and even then the law was never enforced?

It isn't by chance that SC has the second lowest life expectancy in America, nor chance that we have the 3rd highest youth smoking rate. It's time for our state's key leaders to assume full responsibility for continuing to intentionally foster community climates that breed youth nicotine dependency. What would Jesus do?

-- John R. Polito, Mount Pleasant, SC

4/10: Shame on you, Andy Brack

To the editor:

You ask "what would Jesus do?" (Commentary, 4/10) How would you or the typical liberal politician , especially one from Clarendon County, have any idea of how Jesus thinks.

South Carolina remains poor , remains last in most good things and first in most bad things due to liberal democrats who work to stop any progress in this state and indeed in our Nation as well.

Just look at Clarendon County, yes, we have much poverty, we have many, many uneducated citizens. Many are no better off than their ancestors were 150 years ago. Why?, liberal politicians collect the tax dollars but spend it unwisely. You complain about a reduction in state income tax of $130 million , you look at it as taking money out ? , how foolish you are. In truth this "cut" is too small. It should have been for $700 million and applied to every taxpayer , not just small business. This $750 million would create more jobs , grow our weak economy , and give our citizens more money and less government. You liberals just cannot accept the concept of less government, Look around you , in most Areas across this nation liberalism has lost. Look at the 'red map' . see Andy , every "Red State" rejects your agenda. Tax cuts do not take money out , they give money back to the citizens....

Class warfare , Race warfare, Anti Religious positions , A.C.L.U. supporters, some cases Anti American positions, this describes the liberal agenda. America has and will continue to reject this agenda . I cannot answer your question "What would Jesus do", I am not worthy to speak for my Savior . I can speak loudly as to what liberals have done and are trying to do. Just look over the past 70 years , from F.D.R. to Jimmy Carter , to Willie Clinton , from liberal members of our house and senate to the liberal members on our Supreme Court, what do you see ? the brutal power of Big Government, The attack on all Religions , the destruction of our most innocent life from abortion to starving to death a life most helpless.

Liberalism is the most violent , most anti religious form of government on the face of this earth. It is also the most dangerous because it hides behind a mask of respectability , even posing as being religious, yet like a cancer seeks to destroy all that it touches.

-- Lew Richards, Manning , SC


KEEPING TRACK

In this new section, we will keep track of Statehouse Report's record of forecasting what goes on in the legislature. For example, at the beginning of the year, a commentary called for no roads to be named for living officials. Sixteen days later, House Speaker David Wilkins introduced such a measure. Latest example:

In Statehouse Report:

3/20/05: "Siphoning public money for private education could lead to school resegregation, says the Rev. Joseph A. Darby, the much-respected African American minister at Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Charleston." More.

In other outlets:

4/2/05: "Now opponents say that tuition tax credits would in effect re-segregate the state's schools, with whites fleeing to private schools and public schools becoming increasingly black." The Economist magazine.

10/17/04: Radar Screen: Changes ahead in House leadership? 4/1/05: Wilkins may be appointed ambassador, successors lining up, Post and Courier
3/13/05: Sanford's wolf tactics wearing thin on lawmakers 3/21/05: Governor's style irks lawmakers, Post and Courier


SOUTH CAROLINA SCORECARD

Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political events from the past week:

Thumbs up

Vouchers. Even though the governor's much-desired voucher plan is on tap for discussion in the coming week in the House Ways and Means Committee, the recent report showing it would cost $500 million may be the last nail in its coffin this year. It also didn't help that The State ran a story Thursday that passing the voucher bill would cost $15 million for firefighters.

Talley. While Rep. Scott Talley has come up with some lame-brained ideas, we like his proposal to give tax credits to developers who reuse or redevelop big-box stores that become eyesores.

Thumbs down

Sanford. We always thought there was too much meddling with Santee Cooper. Now we know it's true.

Altman. Rep. John Graham Altman has been on a tear lately -- with proposals to scuttle the SCETV board and to allow counties to secede for property tax reasons. This is rhetoric taken too far. Come on.


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