Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tobacco farm workers unite!

Hi there, dedicated blog readers. My name's Darcie, and I'm the new lady at SmokeFree. For the past few months, I've been avoiding adding a blog entry, but today I learned that R.J. Reynold's has a hand in burning holes in U.S. workers' rights and spitting all over basic human freedoms. I can't help but tell you all about it...

The FLOC (Farm Labor Organizing Committee) represents about 7,000 tobacco farm workers in North Carolina, but there are almost 150,000 others without the power to negotiate to improve their poor wages and unsafe conditions. Most of these workers have limited citizenship status and work long hours handling tobacco plants in the hot sun. The nicotine in the plants can add to serious dehydration, and workers have LITERALLY DROPPED DEAD in the fields. The atrocities don't stop there. The FLOC workers make about $9.00/hour, but the non-union workers make minimum wage ($5.15/hour) or even less! The crew leaders smuggle people across the Mexican border and make them work in the tobacco fields to pay off the debt while, at the same time, forcing them to pay for food, calling cards, transportation, and substandard housing. The workers' undocumented status makes it very scary to report human rights abuses, but some have reported being beaten for complaining about their conditions, and those that have successfully organized tell a story of an industry plagued by corruption. Some of these tobacco farm owners employ illegal immigrants without properly declaring their taxes! For more information, go to FLOC's campaign website at http://www.floc.com/RJR%20Campaign.htm.

It's no surprise to me that R.J. Reynolds' CEO, Susan Ivey, has refused meeting requests from FLOC President , Baldemar Velazquez, who hopes to resolve this crisis in North Carolina. I think tobacco companies should take their part of responsibility for the deplorable conditions workers endure to create their deadly products and at least facilitate a meeting between farm owners and union leaders.

What do you think?


Budget Q&A

We all know the BIG news about the state budget by now, but what about all the small stuff that actually adds up to the over 600 pages in the final document? Over the next few days we'll post some of the common questions we're getting here at SFW.

Q: When will the $1 cigarette tax increase take effect?
A: January 1, 2008

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Budget Signed!

Wisconsin's budget is officially signed! (That's SmokeFree Wisconsin Executive Director Maureen Busalacchi with Governor Doyle.) Thanks to everyone who fought for increased tobacco prevention and cessation funding and a higher cigarette tax. This is truly a victory for our state and our kids!

2 down, 1 to go: Now that the budget is done, we'll be focusing our attention on SB 150, the Breathe Free Wisconsin Act. You can find out more about the campaign by visiting www.itstimewisconsin.org or by visiting the smoke-free environments section of SmokeFree Wisconsin's website: http://www.smokefreewi.org/priorities/SFenvironments/index.html
There is broad support across Wisconsin for a comprehensive smoke-free law, and with Minnesota and Illinois going smoke-free within three months of each other, now is the time for Wisconsin to join the trend.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We have a budget....finally

Both houses of the legislature have approved the budget. This budget means big things for the health of Wisconsin. In the budget compromise bill is a $1 increase in the cigarette tax and $15 million in tobacco control program funding. These numbers mean so much more than an item in the budget. What do these numbers really mean?

Saving lives:

  • 65,800 kids alive today who will not become smokers
  • 33,000 adults will quit smoking
  • 21,000 adult smokers saved from smoking-caused death
  • 9,100 fewer smoking-affected births
Saving money:
  • $227.5 million in new cigarette tax revenue every year
  • $15.6 million in 5-year health care savings from fewer smoking-affected pregnancies and births
  • $1467.9 million in long-term health care savings in state from adult & youth smoking declines

Monday, October 22, 2007

7-1: Conference Committee passes compromise budget

The conference committee passed the budget compromise 7-1. The compromise contains a $1 cigarette tax increase and $15 million per year for Wisconsin's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. You can urge your senator and representative to vote for the budget here. Tomorrow it will go to the Assembly first and the Senate second.

I'll be en route to Minneapolis, MN (that's right - smoke-free Minnesota!) tomorrow on my way to the National Conference on Tobacco or Health. For budget updates, I'd recommend checking out the WisPolitics Budget Blog at blogs.wispolitics.com/budget.html. You can also watch the budget votes live on Wisconsin Eye at www.wiseye.org.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Budget deal reached

Last night Gov. Doyle and legislative leaders from both parties announced a deal has been reached on the state budget. The legislature will go into session on Monday to vote on the compromise.
According to the governor's press release, the new budget will include a $1 cigarette tax increase. The accompanying budget agreement factsheet also cites an increase in program funding for WI's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program of $5 million. Is it everything we asked for? No. Is it a victory for public health? Yes.

What do you think?

Monday, October 15, 2007

$77 million

Wisconsin's budget is 108 days overdue. If a $1.25 cigarette tax increase had been implemented on July 1, Wisconsin would have already brought in $77 million in new revenue that could be used to pay for tobacco prevention and cessation programs and healthcare expenses caused by tobacco. That's over 2 1/2 times the amount originally budgeted by Gov. Doyle for the state's Tobacco Prevention and Control Program over the next two years.


Wisconsin's budget is 107 days overdue. During this 1/3 of a year, 2,675 Wisconsin kids have become new daily smokers. 856 of them are likely to die early because of their addiction.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Jon Stewart's take on Bush's SCHIP veto

Jon Stewart points out the problem with putting Big Tobacco before our kids...

Friday, October 5, 2007

The truth behind President Bush's veto of S-Chip

By DAVID AHRENS, Originally published in The Daily Telegram
Saturday, September 15, 2007

Insuring children who have no health care should be a political “no-brainer.” And it is, for nearly everyone but our president. Providing medical services to children prevents illness and reduces costs, and even for the most hard-hearted, it’s tough to blame children for being sick.

The federal government currently insures 56,000 kids in Wisconsin through an ill-named program pronounced “S-Chip” for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. But tens of thousands of kids are still uninsured, and the number is increasing. A strong bipartisan majority of senators and members of Congress have proposed to expand the program and make it available for middle-class families who are increasingly unable to afford insurance.

Who supports the proposal to expand the health insurance program for kids? About 80 percent of the public, based on survey results. Political powerhouses such as doctors, hospitals and drug companies all support it. Most Republicans support it too. Why does the President Bush oppose it?

He says it’s because the plan costs too much despite the fact that it is tens of billions less than the Medicare drug benefit he supported.

The real reason may have little to do with the merits of the health plan itself. Bush’s strong opposition could be linked to the 61-cent cigarette tax hike slated to fund the program. This increase would raise the billions of dollars needed to keep this successful program alive past its expiration date of Sept. 30 and also cover millions more kids. More than 100,000 kids in Wisconsin would have access to health care under the new law.

Bush’s opposition to the cigarette tax increase is not a surprise to those who have followed his policies since he first ran for office. In both small ways and large, this administration has been a loyal supporter of Big Tobacco.

Indeed, Bush’s ties to the tobacco industry were formed before he arrived in Washington. His campaign manager during both runs for Texas governor was the main lobbyist for Philip Morris in Texas — Karl Rove. As governor, Bush gave the tobacco Industry everything it wanted.

To his credit, Bush did not hide his loyalty to an industry that would become the number one contributor to the Republican Party in the 2000 election. In his first campaign for president, he publicly promised the industry that he would oppose all cigarette tax increases and would end the Justice Department lawsuit for $150 billion in damages as well as make other law changes to make it difficult to sue the industry.

And he kept his word.

In one of his first official acts, Bush promoted Karl Rove from Philip Morris’ lobbyist to White House senior advisor. Immediately after his inaugural, the work for the industry began. South Korea and Thailand were pressured to drop their new tariffs on U.S. cigarettes.

Bush found it politically difficult to shut down the U.S. lawsuit against the tobacco giants. So instead, after the tobacco industry was found guilty as charged, the Justice Department attorneys asked the judge to cut the penalty by over 90 percent!

Two months ago, the fired U.S. Surgeon General, Richard Carmona, reported to Congress that he was repeatedly pressured by the White House to “soften” and then delay his report on the health effects of secondhand smoke.

Most recently, his chief of the FDA said he opposes a bill requiring his agency to oversee tobacco products. This is an odd policy choice because, after all, they regulate Snickers but not Marlboros.

While Bush may appear to be at worst an uncompassionate conservative or at best politically deaf in opposing access to health care for all kids, it is likely that the real reason has nothing to do with kids or even health care. It has everything to do with a political system that rents allegiance for easy money and is addicted to tobacco’s billions.

David Ahrens is an employee of the University of Wisconsin Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Smoke-free Envy

Today Minnesota goes smoke-free. Join me and these singing girls in wishing them well.

We've set up a special web page where you can send a message to the Freedom to Breathe Coalition in Minnesota. You can write your congratulatory note by following this link or by leaving us a comment on this blog post.