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Guest Column: Profits before people

By Staff | Sep 23, 2016

And so it begins.

The tobacco companies and their high paid surrogates have begun their campaign to discredit the proposed tobacco tax increase in North Dakota. The recent column by Mike Rud, the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association executive, is a great example of the misinformation and wild allegations the tobacco companies will resort to to protect their profits, as well as kids and the addicts they enslave.

For example, Rud claims the money will go to more tobacco prevention and cessation. Not true. North Dakota already has a fully funded tobacco prevention and cessation program. 100% of the proceeds from this measure will go to pay for new and improved veterans’ programs, chronic disease prevention, low income woman’s health screenings, expanded vaccination access, and addiction and mental health treatment.

Rud claims the measure is poorly written. Not true. The language was modeled after similar legislation developed by the North Dakota Legislative Council for the 2015 session. It clearly spells out what is covered and how the money is to be used without hamstringing these recipients from meeting new challenges.

Rud complains that the money could be spent out-of-state. How ridiculous. The money is controlled by North Dakota commissions and agencies appointed by the governor. There is no chance this money would be spent out-of-North Dakota.

He also claims there will be a blank check for bureaucrats with no oversight and accountability. Again, not true. Not only will this measure face the ultimate oversight, approval by the voters, it will also be subjected to the same audit and fiscal controls to which all state spending is subjected. And, should circumstances change, the legislature can make changes.

He also complains about it being a big increase. Well, the simple truth is that North Dakota has not increased its tobacco tax in 23 years. Any increase would be seen as a major increase. And, quite frankly, the purpose of this tax increase is to reduce the use of tobacco and prevent kids from starting. It takes a large increase to have the effect we want. Still, our tax is less than Minnesota, even after the tobacco tax increase.

My favorite crazy claim is that raising the tobacco tax will lead to rise in mafia style smuggling and criminal activity in North Dakota. Wow. Now they are pulling out all the stops, never mind the fact that other states have significantly higher tobacco taxes and have not seen the kind of scary criminal activity Big Tobacco is trying sell.

North Dakota has a serious problem with tobacco use. Tobacco related diseases cost our healthcare system over $400 million per year. Hundreds of kids will start smoking this year and vaping by minors has become an epidemic. Worse yet, thousands of North Dakotans, our children, friends and relatives who use tobacco, face an early and painful death.

The choice is clear. You can protect the profits of tobacco companies and their retailers or you can save lives, save money and stop kids from starting. The tobacco companies have been profiting from misery and addiction too long. Raising the price of tobacco is a proven means to reduce tobacco use and prevent kids from starting. It is time to take strong action. It is time to Vote Yes on Measure 4.

Wolfe works with the North Dakota chapter of the American Lung Association.

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