Tobacco Deal is Not About Reducing Teen
By Sue Blevins
September 10, 1998
I'd like to share a personal perspective on one of
the hottest topics in Washington this summer -- the
tobacco deal. That is, the idea that Congress should
raise taxes on tobacco products to get people, especially
teens, to stop smoking, then use the funds to pay for
government-funded biomedical research.
No Fan of Tobacco
Simply put, I am no fan of tobacco. Like Al Gore and
Newt Gingrich, I have also lost a family member to lung
cancer. It was the most grueling death I had ever witnessed
in all my years as a registered nurse. So I have a lot
of sympathy with the public health advocates who want
to help Americans, especially teenagers, to quit smoking.
But are today's politicians going about reducing teen
smoking in the right way? Probably not.
Supporters of comprehensive tobacco reform claim they
want to prevent teenagers from starting to smoke in
the first place. But they are raising tobacco taxes
for everyone -- not just teenagers.
Surely, if politicians were serious about reducing
teen smoking, they would enforce existing laws already
created to do just that.
Yet, most politicians seem more interested in raising
"new" money by passing new tobacco laws, rather than
stopping teenage smoking by enforcing existing laws.
Some politicians (from both major political parties)
want to use the tobacco deal money to help pay for medical
research. The idea sounds admirable. But increasing
medical research funding will not guarantee a reduction
in teen smoking. It will merely funnel taxpayers' money
to medical schools without much media attention being
paid to the fact that these schools already receive
billions of dollars of government subsidies given in
the name of research.
Of course, the medical school researchers cannot guarantee
that they will reduce teen smoking based on the amount
of money they are given. If that were possible, then
politicians could truthfully make the case that funding
medical research will reduce teen smoking.
Most Americans agree that the tobacco
industry should not get off the hook by lying to the
American public while manipulating their children into
nicotine addiction with altered products and seductive
advertising. Equally, politicians should not be given
a free ride when they manipulate the American public
by claiming that the tobacco deal is about reducing
teen smoking, when it's really about expanding government.