February 23, 2009 The Pump Handle 0Comment

by revere, cross-posted from Effect Measure

DemFromCT continues his public health series over at DailyKos, thus also continuing to make my early week blogging easier. This week is a brief look at this year’s flu season, already in full swing, including what is happening in pediatric deaths from flu. He follows this with another interview, this time the American Lung Association’s Director, National Advocacy, Erika Sward. Topics are timely: SCHIP (the Children’s Health Insurance bill, just signed into law) and tobacco control.

These topics are intimately connected. Children are harmed by second hand smoke and are the next generation of nicotine addicts. And SCHIP is funded by a fairly large increase in the tobacco tax. It went from 39 cents a pack another 62 cents (91 cents). Virtually all studies have shown that youth smoking behavior is cost sensitive. So the ALA considers the SCHIP bill a win-win for children’s health by making it more affordable for the poorest families and helping to prevent further ill health.

While we are talking about tobacco control, let’s talk about talking about tobacco control:

Another issue we touched on is the idea that tobacco control is no longer, as Sward put it “the third rail” of American politics, and that it can now be openly discussed. In fact, for two decades, the ALA has recognized that only the Federal Government can regulate tobacco, and that if it is treated as a drug, that properly belongs under the auspices of the FDA. John McCain sponsored legislation in the Senate to do that, and in 2004 it passed the House, but never became law. (DemFromCT, “Flu And You – Part VII,” DailyKos)

I expect to get the usual libertarian crap about an individual’s “right to smoke” and the nanny state nonsense, but the whining on the margin excepted, things have changed dramatically. It wasn’t that long ago that Big Tobacco and their advertising money ruled the airwaves and all other mainstream media. They still have a remarkably sophisticated PR operation, and many of these libertarian-looking arguments are subtly or not so subtly encouraged by their invisible hand. That’s not to say many who put these arguments forth are knowingly in league with the tobacco lobby’s merchants of death, but they are certainly being used and manipulated by them.

If a person decides on the basis of full information (including the likelihood of addiction and fatal illness), I am not in favor of preventing them — as long as they don’t jack up my insurance premiums or harm me or my family with their side stream smoke. If it’s truly their choice, it’s also their responsibility and I don’t want to pay for it. They are on their own. I feel the same way about marijuana and alcohol. Users may be foolish (or use these products foolishly), but they aren’t criminals. But full and clear knowledge also means that Big Tobacco cannot target young people or fraudulently trick others into believing smoking will benefit them socially or manipulate their product to make it even more addicting. And the true cost of cigarettes must be part of the price, not externalized for me and the rest of society to pay for. The cigarette tax is one way to do that.

There’s lots more in Dem’s weekly public health read, including information on current legislative plans to bring tobacco under the FDA (an initiative of John McCain’s in the last congress that failed but will come up again). DailyKos is one of the biggest blogs in the know universe. I’m grateful that public health has gotten a regular place on its front page. Keep it up!

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