Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco 6/6/03

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United States Surgeon General Richard Carmona told a House subcommittee Wednesday he would support a ban on tobacco products. Carmona's comments marked the first time a surgeon general, the federal government's top public health advocate, had gone so far on the politically sensitive topic.

Asked if he would "support the abolition of all tobacco products," Carmona told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee investigating smokeless tobacco and other reduced risk tobacco products, "I would support banning or abolishing tobacco products." Carmona equivocated when asked if he would support a law to ban tobacco, saying "legislation is not my field," but then reiterated his support for criminalizing tobacco. "If Congress chose to go that way, that would be up to them," he said, "but I see no need for any tobacco products in society."

In stark contrast to its position on illicit drugs, the Bush administration was quick to back away from Carmon's comments. "That is not the policy of the administration," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters. "The president supports efforts to crack down on youth smoking, and we can do more as a society to keep tobacco away from kids. That's our focus."

Still, Carmona's remarks are only the latest indication that a prohibitionist approach to tobacco use and sales is gaining ground, both nationally and globally. From California to New York City, tobacco smokers have been forced out of public accommodations and into the streets under laws that do not even provide people with the option of choosing to enter a smoke-filled room. As DRCNet reported last week, in Holland, Amsterdam's fabled marijuana coffee houses face extensive renovation, new construction or closure to comply with new Dutch anti-tobacco legislation. And tobacco is a favorite target of cash-strapped legislators, who in state after state combine arguments for public health with punitive taxes.

Ironically, Carmona's comments came during a subcommittee hearing on harm reducing tobacco products, such as smokeless chews and snuffs. The committee was addressing efforts by the US Smokeless Tobacco Company, to have its products recognized and marketed as less harmful that cigarettes.

Even more ironically, spokesmen for both the tobacco industry and anti-tobacco activists agreed that tobacco prohibition was not the answer. "We were surprised, because over the course of the years there have been very few people advocating a ban on tobacco products," said Philip Morris spokesman Michael Pfeil. "It's just not a very effective way to deal with the problem."

"We would all like to see a tobacco-free world," concurred Joel Spivak of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "But the reality is that there are 45 million Americans who are smokers, and we can't just take away their tobacco."

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Issue #290, 6/6/03 Editorial: Courage and Perseverance | Thousands Rally in NYC to Demand Repeal of Rockefeller Drug Laws | Medical Marijuana Cultivator Rosenthal Sentenced to One Day, Plus Probation | DEA Uses RAVE Act Threats to Block Montana NORML/SSDP Benefit | Dems on Drugs: The Presidential Contenders and Their Drug Policies | In a Strong Reversal, Congress Prohibits Drug Czar from Running Ads Against Ballot Measures and Candidates | Newsbrief: Texas Governor Signs Bill Freeing Tulia 14 | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- No in Oklahoma | Newsbrief: Sentencing Reform -- Yes in Missouri | Newsbrief: Feds Reject MPP Complaint Against Drug Czar | Newsbrief: The Next Prohibition? Surgeon General Supports Banning Tobacco | Newsbrief: Belgian Marijuana Decriminalization Now in Effect | Newsbrief: DEA Can't Kidnap People in Other Countries, Federal Court Rules | The Reformer's Calendar

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