May 1998

Ironies of the Tobacco Wars

by Amy Ridenour


Did you know that airline air was better back when smoking was allowed on planes?

According to the respected travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler, in the days of airline smoking, pilots let up to four times as much fresh air into airplane cabins as they do now. They had to, to disperse the smoke. Nowadays they save money on fuel by using less fresh air and more recirculated air ­ air that sometimes carries colds, flu and even tuberculosis from passenger to passenger.

I was reminded of this irony while listening to the Senate debate on the National Tobacco Policy and Youth Smoking Reduction Act, commonly known as the John McCain (R-AZ) tobacco tax bill. As I listened, I heard irony after irony. Rarely, I suspect, did a majority of the Senators notice them.

For instance, the McCain tobacco tax bill is designed to raise the price of cigarettes so smokers will have "sticker shock" and quit. But it also phases in the price increases specifically because the Senators want to avoid "sticker shock."

And: The bill is supported because Senators don't like the tobacco business. But the bill exempts tobacco companies with a small share of the market, which means that new tobacco companies will have a price advantage over established competitors. The result of the bill's passage, therefore, will surely be a rush by entrepreneurs to start more new tobacco companies.

That's not all:

The tobacco bill has a long way to go. The Senate will debate it again in June and the House sometime afterward. But what I want to know is, if this bill does pass, will President Clinton celebrate as he has been known to do on other occasions? That is, with a nice fat cigar?

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Amy Ridenour is President of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Comments may be sent to aridenour@nationalcenter.org.

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