Friday, January 2, 2009

Safer Cigarettes

Since we seem to be on a vice kick today, yes, the 800 people who die in fires started by cigarettes pales in comparison to the number of premature deaths due to smoking generally. I believe the proper Nudge/Tipping Point proposal to reduce smoking rates is to regulate the amount of nicotine in cigarettes so that they're less addictive. No, it will not stop addiction, but it will at least make a substantial dent in the number of regular smokers. This is the impetus behind Democratic efforts since the late Clinton era to give the FDA authority to regulate tobacco sales. However, such authority currently requires an act of Congress.

This will still be a tall order for the 111th Congress. The good news is that Orrin Hatch is happy to go to war against Big Tobacco; if he can corral the remaining Mormon Republicans (Bennett and Crapo) that will help. The bad news is that three Democratic Senators--Mark Warner, Jim Webb, and Kay Hagan--represent heavy tobacco producing states. In addition I'm not sure how folks like Mary Landrieu, Ben Nelson, and Max Baucus feel this vote. The really bad news is that Mitch McConnell is the Senate Minority Leader; in addition to being little more than a shill for large corporate interests, Kentucky is also a tobacco producing state (the state legislature passed a ban on bans, preventing cities from enacting indoor smoking bans). This means that Hatch et al. would not just be going to war with Big Tobacco, but also with the leaders of their own party (in the House, Minority leader John Boehner smokes, and Minority Whip Eric Cantor represents Virginia.). Given the umpteen other fights pending in the next two years this may also fall by the wayside, unless it becomes part of the mammoth health care deal.

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