Nicotine Addiction Part 6 -Smokers Struggle as State Bans Get Tighter
By: Hazel Trice Edney and Aria White
Originally posted 5/8/2007
Editor's Note: More than a half million African-Americans have died from smoking-related diseases over the past decade. That's enough people to fill the cities of Atlanta, New Orleans, Kansas City, Mo., or Cleveland, Ohio.
Yet, 'cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States', according to the Centers for Disease Control. Then why are so many Black people dying from cigarettes and why is it so difficult to quit? This eight-part series -
''Nicotine Addiction'' - seeks to explore these questions by featuring real people, real circumstances, and real answers.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Vanessa Wickham-Baker, a 42-year-old manager of a public relations firm has a strategy.
She knows that smoking has become taboo in some circles and even illegal in others. So, rather than quit, the 24-year veteran smoker from Baltimore has learned to prepare herself for temporary restraint.
“I prep myself before I go in, most of the time, you know. When you’re a smoker when you go somewhere you know if you can or can’t smoke. So I mentally prepare myself before I go in.”
Elaine White, a retired Baltimore schoolteacher, who has been smoking 30 years, has it even harder than Baker. The 61-year-old has tried to quit. She once made it about five years before returning to the proven deadly habit. The temptation of her favorite brand, Benson and Hedges Ultra Deluxe Menthol, are often too much to resist.
Having reduced her intake from a pack a day down to now a half pack, she is still defiant when the “No Smoking” rules kick in.
She states simply, “It doesn’t bother me, until I need to smoke, then I smoke.”
According to the “Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids”, among the nation’s top anti-tobacco lobbyists, 19 states now have smoke-free workplace laws that not only send messages about the dangers of smoking, but to protect non-smokers from the second hand smoke that kills 54,000 people a year. Cigarette-related diseases kills 450,000 Americans a year, including 45,000 African-Americans a year and
“There’s been a lot of support, a lot of receptivity from elected officials across the country,” says. “We’re now up to 19 states that have smoke-free workplace laws and dozens more cities and counties around the country.”
But the tobacco lobby is fighting back - hard.
“The challenge is that the tobacco industry continues to spend millions of dollars each year on lobbying, on campaign contributions, so there’s still the need to overcome all the money that the industry spends,” says Vince Willmore, spokesman for the CTFK.
The spending gets especially heavy when Congress or a particular state begins major legislation.
For example, in 2003, when Congress began debating the issue of tobacco regulation by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time in five years, the tobacco industry spent about $10.6 million over a period of only six months to lobby lawmakers, according to a report by Common Cause and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund.
The report estimated that the money amounted to $116,000 for each day Congress was in session. That $10.6 million was on top of the $1.1 million that the tobacco industry gave in political contributions during the first nine months of the 2003-2004 and the $9.4 million the companies had given in earlier congressional elections in 2002, the report stated. The bill for FDA regulation of tobacco failed.
Votes of legislators often appear to coincide with major financial contributions from big tobacco companies. Last year, the House Judiciary Committee was about to vote on a bill that would prevent foreign countries from suing tobacco companies that knowingly smuggle cigarettes across their borders.
Cigarette money poured into the committee, the top three highest recipients being Reps. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), $43.124; Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), $31,090 and Howard Coble (R-N.C.), $29,500, all of whom voting yes for the bill, which ultimately passed.
Rep. John Conyers, Jr., (D-Mich.) then ranking member of the committee, which he now chairs, issued a scathing rebuke to his colleagues.
''This bill is nothing more than a tobacco giveaway,” he said in a statement. ''Our government has taken steps to stem the tide of smoking in the United States, but this bill would allow us to ignore the situation in the rest of the world by giving cigarette companies a blank check to export illegal and cheap cigarettes to other nations. I strongly object to the majority's blatant pandering to big tobacco.”
Still, the number of state legislatures passing anti-smoking laws are increasing, mainly due to the fact that voters want them.
“Our polling has shown that the public supports smoke-free workplace laws, supports higher tobacco taxes; and they want governments to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs,” says Willmore. “On the one hand you’ve got strong public support for actions to reduce smoking. And then you’ve got elected officials who want to do the right thing. On the other hand, you’ve got the industry spending a lot of money to try and block affective action.”
So far, in the U.S., the following states have passed smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois (effective January 1, 2008), Maine, Maryland (effective February 1, 2008), Massachusetts, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico (effective June 15), New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington, according to CTFK.
Washington, D.C. and Peuto Rico have also passed such laws. As the tobacco industry appear to lose the fight against smoke-free workplace laws, they go direct with money into communities perceived as vulnerable, particularly, the Black community.
“The fraternities, the political associations, to African-American caucuses at the state level, at the national level, the Black Caucus, community programs, and cultural programs. They blanket the African-American community,” says Robert Robertson, a medical doctor and former associate director of the Office of Minority Health at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
According to White, who is a grandmother, where laws may not stop her from smoking, her love for family can.
“When I went to my grandson’s for a week, I didn’t smoke. But the minute I got home I bought a pack of cigarettes,” she confesses. “I know I can quit I just haven’t yet.”
Hazel Trice Edney is Washington Correspondent for the NNPA News Service. Aria White is a special correspondent.