Banks County Opinions...

MAY 21, 2003


Column

By: Rochelle Beckstine
The Banks County News
May21, 2003

No reason to boycott tobacco treaty
There is no good reason to boycott the World Health Organization’s (WHO) tobacco treaty. Smokers hear tobacco and they immediately jump on the opposed bandwagon, but I think they should know what they’re opposed to before making a decision.
As Americans we live in a privileged society and I’m not just referring to material possessions. For many years now Americans have known that smoking and second hand smoke pose significant health risks. As consumers we are allowed to weigh the health risks with our need for some menial personal satisfaction that we will pay for with our pocketbooks and possibly our lives.
But not all human beings are so lucky. There are developing countries with no laws governing the tobacco industry. Tobacco companies can sell tobacco to minors and place their ads wherever they want and target whomever they want. They don’t have to print warning labels on packages or inform anyone of the health risks associated with tobacco consumption. For the tobacco industry it is the untapped market.
As smoking levels in the industrialized nations have dropped below 30 percent, the tobacco industry has moved into developing nations and hooked millions on tobacco. It is a significant global epidemic. Put it into perspective in terms of world health. The Sars virus which has curtailed travel and caused hordes of people to cower in fear for their lives has killed 500. Tobacco killed more than 4 million people last year.
Tobacco has a known mortality rate of 50 percent compared to Sars estimated 20 percent. If left unchecked about 500 million people alive today will be killed by tobacco, making it the single leading cause of death on Earth.
To curtail this epidemic WHO’s tobacco treaty would acknowledge the health risks associated with tobacco and impose regulations that have been in place for years in developed countries.
The treaty would mandate a minimum size for health warning labels on tobacco, ban ads and sponsorships except where such a ban would be unconstitutional (the United States), ban sales to children and protect non-smokers in public and work places by recognizing second hand smoke as a public health threat. The treaty would also provide more effective control for smuggling and would encourage nations to increase taxation to reduce tobacco consumption.
These may not seem like great concessions, but it has taken WHO four years of steady and protracted negotiations to get this far. And it is at this point that it needs the support of the American people. In August of 2000, WHO published a report documenting the decades-long campaign by the tobacco industry to thwart the development of tobacco control initiatives.
It concluded that: “Tobacco use is unlike other threats to global health. Infectious diseases do not employ multinational public relations firms. There are no front groups to promote the spread of cholera. Mosquitoes have no lobbyists. “The evidence presented here suggests that tobacco is a case unto itself, and that reversing its burden on global health will be not only about understanding addiction and curing disease, but, just as importantly, about overcoming a determined and powerful industry.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson, head of the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly, announced Sunday that the United States would support the initiative when it comes up for a vote in the World Health Assembly. Once approved, governments have a year to decide whether to ratify the treaty, but only 40 ratifications are needed.
Derek Yach, the WHO official who has led the tobacco initiative, said Sunday 30 delegations have already said they are committed to ratifying the treaty and he expects the last ten to be reached in six to 12 months. Thompson said he doesn’t know whether Bush would sign the treaty or whether Congress would pass it, but his office is behind it.
A Democratic society like ours is purported to be would feel that all citizens should make educated decisions. But someone told me recently we don’t live in a Democratic society, we live in a Capitalist society fueled by the almighty dollar. And Phillip Morris has a lot of dollars. Prove that Americans’ convictions are worth just as much as gold. Write your congressmen. Express support for a treaty that will take tobacco out of children’s hands and warn users about how lethal tobacco really is. Think about the 10 million deaths a year the WHO predicts if conditions do not improve. I don’t want that on my head.
Rochelle Beckstine is a columnist for MainStreet Newspapers.
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Column

By: Phillip Sartain
The Banks County News
May 21, 2003

Cutting the cord
I remember the day it happened. Just moments before, I had been sitting in my office, killing time playing with some extra rubber bands and paper clips. I was pretty intent on making a toy of some sort, and with my mind so occupied, I wasn’t paying attention. Then I heard a noise.
Out in the office parking lot, four teens had suddenly formed an adolescent knot of collusion. Without warning, they separated, revealing four worn and battered skateboards with which they began to circle and glide.
I was instantly annoyed, and before I knew it, I was out of my chair and headed for the door. “Hey,” I yelled, bounding down the steps. “What do you think you’re doing?”
They all froze in place and stared at me mutely, like they had just seen their first dinosaur. “Do any of you have insurance,” I demanded, already sure of the response. Again, they stood strangely silent, looking askance at a beet-faced fossil in a starched shirt.
I tried again. “Well, I do. It’s called Liability Insurance, and let me tell you, it’s pretty expensive stuff. And if one of you falls and gets hurt and I get sued, and it’ll cost even more.”
With that, they sort of shifted their feet, and looked at one another as if to say, “Oh, no, an adult.”
I rattled on a few more minutes about responsibility, property rights, permission, maturity, good grades, personal hygiene, eating right, and tied shoelaces. Their eyes began to glaze over.
When I ran out of clichés and truisms, they turned and straggled away down the street. I straightened my tie, brushed myself off, and went back inside. “The nerve of those kids,” I told my secretary. “Somebody could have gotten hurt. Who do they think they are, anyway?”
Returning to my office, I was unaware of any pain. But I did hear a sound, a tiny snipping noise from just beyond my ego. That’s when I first saw it - my generational umbilical cord had been cut and I didn’t even know it.
“Wait,” I cried out. “I’m only 45, I sometimes watch MTV, and I have facial hair.”
But it was too late. By now, the skateboarders had run into some of their friends, and they were telling them about the old grump down the street. I was no longer an “us.” I had become a “them.”
“But I’m too young not to be young anymore,” I told my wife later. Right after that, she reminded me that the mortgage payment was due, she told me she me that we needed a new dishwasher and all the kids needed braces.
I was still muttering to myself while changing my clothes. “Honey, where are my Levis?”
“I gave them away, dear. They don’t fit you so good anymore. Here, put on these slacks with the expandable waistband.”
Devastated, I sat on the bed and scratched the sides of my belly. I looked at the slacks and thought about my severed cord. “Does this mean I won’t be going to the Pearl Jam concert this weekend?”
“Not at all, dear,” she consoled me. “I volunteered you to be a chaperon for some of the kids down the street.”
“Which ones,” I asked, puzzled.
“You know. Those cute boys that ride the skateboards everywhere.”
With a groan, I fell back on the bed, the ever-widening generation gap making my head spin. As I drifted in and out of consciousness, I could hear my wife quietly whispering on the phone. “Yes, okay. Just a little peroxide on the cut for a few days? And will he remember anything after he grows up? No? Good. Thank you, doctor.”
I did make it to the concert later in the week. The music was way too loud, so I spent most of my time outside talking to the security guard. We compared our umbilical scars. “Never look back,” he told me.
It was good advice and I took it. I don’t mind being a “them” after all. Still, I wish my wife had asked me before she threw away my jeans. I went to a lot of trouble to get them to fit so badly.
Phillip Sartain is an attorney in Gainesville.


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