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Mailbag: Bicyclists, motorists make for a dangerous mix

May 16, 2012

Without prevention programs against tobacco smoking at schools, teenagers like Wells are easy pray for Big Tobacco. According to government sources, each day more than 3,800 minors smoke for the first time, and more than 1,000 become addicted for life.

"I never saw a prevention class in my school," Wells said, with disappointment.

In 1998, the tobacco industry agreed on a monetary settlement with the states after prosecutors successfully proved this industry's disingenuous portrayal of their product in the market. At the height of the trial, Dr. Victor De Noble, former researcher at Philip Morris, became a key witness to unveil his former employer's unlawful activities. In the end, the big three, Phillip Morris, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard, agreed to repay the states $246 billion over 25 years because states had absorbed massive bills from cancer patients and other people affected with illnesses related to tobacco smoking.

This year, states are expected to collect $25.6 billion in revenue from tobacco taxes and the tobacco settlement. Nonetheless, only $456.7 million (1.8 %) will be allocated in youth prevention and cessation programs. That figure is about half of what states spent during the first decade of the agreement. To make things worse, states cut down another $61.2 million from prevention programs last year.


While states are doing less, tobacco moguls have multiplied their resources to lure teenagers into smoking. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2008 they spent about $10.5 billion in marketing. For every dollar states spent on prevention, Big Tobacco used $27 to market its products.

Our youth is Big Tobacco's primary target. An addicted teenager insures solid profits for at least 20 years or more. Adults, on the other hand, are no longer reliable "markets," as their health is beginning to erode, and it is just a matter of time before some of them seek remedies in public hospitals.

Our state might be in fiscal insolvency, but our willingness to stop a tobacco onslaught against our kids is not. Proposition 29 has all the ingredients to change the dynamics of smoking. On June 5, California voters have an opportunity to add $1 to a cigarette pack. It would be a major setback to the tobacco industry. If passed, the state will collect about $835 million per year, which will be used for cancer research, prevention programs and law enforcement.

High prices on cigarettes have been enemy No. 1 to Big Tobacco. The more expensive the pack, the less likely teenagers will get one. Even tobacco moguls recognize it.

"When the tax goes up, industry loses volume and profits as many smokers cut back," stressed Ellen Merlo, senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs at Philip Morris.

No wonder they have raised nearly $40 million to stop Proposition 29.

For Wells, quitting smoking isn't a personal decision anymore. He understands the need of a special rehabilitation program to get through his vice. Proposition 29 will give him precisely that.

Humberto Caspa


The writer is a former Daily Pilot columnist now writing for La Opinion.

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