Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Will Possession, Sales or Use of Tobacco in Washington State Become a Class C Felony?

In a move sure to please city council critter Jeanne Harris, a group calling themselves ‘Tobacco-Free Washington’ has gotten approval for a new citizen’s initiative that would make the use of any tobacco product in Washington State a Class C felony!

Proposed by a Seattle based Dentist, Dr. Edward Dolan, a 1996 Western Washington University graduate, and director of the World Lung Association, in Medina, Wa., the measure is designed to “make the sale, manufacture, or possession of tobacco products a Class C felony and redefine tobacco products as including ‘any product containing tobacco or nicotine that is expected or intended for human consumption’.”

The initiative has received approval from the Secretary of State and assigned the number of “512.”

From page 3 of “Initiative 512”

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. A new section is added to chapter 9.91 RCW to read as follows:

(1) It is unlawful to sell, manufacture, or possess any tobacco products including, but not limited to, cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco.

(2) A person who:

(a) Sells or manufactures any tobacco product is guilty of a class B felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW; or

(b) Possesses any tobacco product is guilty of a class C felony punishable according to chapter 9A.20 RCW.

(3) For the purposes of this section, "tobacco product" includes any product containing tobacco or nicotine that is expected or intended for human consumption.

Few people defend tobacco use any longer and anytime we defend our freedom of choice, we are automatically labeled as defending big tobacco, wanting to hurt children, having no compassion, you name it.

But, in all of these efforts to demonize tobacco users and pushing smokers further and further into the back allies is the disproportionate amount of taxes the state collects off of tobacco, at a time they are crying not having enough revenue from our taxes to maintain budgets.

Prohibition of alcohol failed miserably back in the 1920’s and total bans of tobacco have not yet received much favor. Partial bans, like we saw when smokers were ushered outside and more recently as they are told they must not use tobacco of any nature within Vancouver Parks have found favor with many.

Such a total ban that would have only made the use of tobacco a misdemeanor was tried by North Dakota in 2003. Their legislature defeated the Republican proposed measure with a vote of 88 to 4.

Their measure received heavy opposition from anti-tobacco groups that testified against the tobacco ban, such as “the North Dakota Medical Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, North Dakota Public Health Association and North Dakota Nurses Association.” They claimed, “There's no evidence banning tobacco would prevent and reduce tobacco use because no such approach has been implemented.”

There was also the strong probability that such a ban would have taken away much of the funding for these groups for their tobacco control programs.

Legislators admitted also that the state was “hooked on tobacco,” even though many did not smoke. Republican Wes Belter admitted, “It is time for us to think about just how hooked we are on tobacco, whether we smoke or not,” recognizing then how states are dependent upon tobacco taxes.

At a rate of $3.025 tax per pack of 20 cigarettes, it is easy to see how profitable tobacco is for Washington State and should this initiative collect enough signatures to make it on the ballot and win voter approval that would be many millions of dollars in tax revenue the state will lose.

In what can only be labeled ironic, as signatures are being gathered to make smokers felons, signatures are also being gathered to legalize marijuana in Washington State. In spite of claims by potheads on how “safe” marijuana is, has been shown to carry many of the same harmful effects as claimed for tobacco.

Ultimately though, as we see more and more of these efforts coming down the pike, voters must begin thinking just how far are they willing to go in efforts to “change cultural behaviors,” as Harris put it.

Is it really beneficial to make smokers felons and lose their tax dollars as the state’s budget gap continues to grow?

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