Just as there are enemies to our nation, there are also enemies to health. One of the worst of those is tobacco.
The fight against the big tobacco companies is not only one that must be continued, but it's one that must be won. Lives literally are at stake. Unfortunately, the national will to attack this enemy seems to be waning.Utah Attorney General Jan Graham is to be commended and also supported for her efforts to keep the battle going in Utah.
While Congress foolishly has let petty politicking get in the way of what's best for the country by failing to pass anti-tobacco legislation, Graham has been steadfast in asserting Utah's right to bargain for legal relief.
She aptly noted at Tuesday's annual summit of the Utah Substance Abuse and Anti-Violence Coordinating Committee that the ills associated with tobacco represent the most serious public health crisis of the day.
The statistics, as presented by the attorney general, are terrifying. In the United States there are 47 million people addicted to smoking, and 200,000 of them reside in Utah. More people die from tobacco-related illnesses each year - 500,000 - than die from automobile accidents, homicides, AIDS, suicides and fires combined.
Obviously, the key to significantly reducing that number is to significantly reduce the number of smokers. That means focusing on children, stopping them before they get started.
Advertisements geared toward younger audiences have been a staple of tobacco marketing for years - as evidenced by the popularity of The Marlboro Man, Virginia Slims and Joe Camel. Every day in America 3,000 children become regular smokers. That is abominable.
In 1996, Utah, under Graham's leadership, became the 16th state to join a class-action lawsuit against the industry. And the states succeeded in coming up with a settlement that called for $368 billion in fines against the industry over 25 years, as well as strong advertising restrictions and a provision that would have allowed the Food and Drug Administration to begin regulating nicotine as a controlled substance after a few years.
But then Congress got involved, and instead of giving the original settlement its stamp of approval, which would have imposed immediate restrictions on the regulation of tobacco sales and marketing, it sabotaged the agreement through election year grandstanding. Wrangling in both the House and Senate failed to bring about a bill. Not only was the original settlement better than nothing, it was also better than the unrealistic ones being pushed by various lawmakers.
An opportunity to lessen the impact of tobacco on our nation's health has been lost. The fight, though now more difficult, must not be abandoned. With state attorneys general like Graham committed to seeing it through, it won't be.