Friday, May 16, 2008

Show me the money: tobacco suit funds and the mollycoddle myth

Gov. Doyle today announced several vetoes and re-workings of the recently passed state budget repair bill. In it, he changed how the bill would be financed (instead of issuing a veto) in order to scale back the amount of money that could be found by securitizing bonds from tobacco company payments. Specifically, Doyle and his aids said they would "seek to borrow $150 million instead of the $209 million outlined in the bill."

In case you hadn't heard much about it lately, Wisconsin, like every other state, received a large sum of money ($5.9 billion) from the major tobacco companies as a result of the Master Settlement Agreement, the "largest civil settlement in US history." The agreement freed the companies from tort liability with the state governments (several of which had pending lawsuits against them) in exchange for these payments and additional restrictions on advertising.

Currently, the state collects just over $600 million a year in revenue from what is leftover of this tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes. It spends a paltry 2.5% of that on tobacco prevention programs It spends a paltry 2.5% of that on tobacco prevention programs. This is in stark contrast to the recommended amount as laid out by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which suggests states spend between $31.2 and $82.4 million a year.

To add insult to injury, these funds have been raided for other purposes several times now. In 2002, the Legislature and Gov. Scott McCallum securitized (sold to investors, for a smaller, up-front payment) the $5.9 billion into a $1.6 billion lump sum - most of which was used to address the state's one-time budget deficit. In this new budget repair bill, the original language called for securitizing another $209 million of that.

Doyle cutting that back to just $150 is progress, but still not great. In the end, this money should be going toward funding tobacco prevention services, and probably health care costs associated with tobacco use, too. Instead, our state legislators (and governors) seem content to raid that cookie jar for other purposes, as opposed to responsible budget balancing, and transferring the costs over to the taxpayers. I call shenanigans.

And speaking of shenanigans! Our good friends over at Ban the Ban Wisconsin have decided to change course and attack the people of the state instead of the "pro-ban activists." In a little something they cleverly call Operation Mollycoddle, the authors are calling on anti-ban types to convince regular folks that groups like Smoke Free Wisconsin think they're all "idiots" and "can't think for themselves." Here are a few choice tidbits from the site:

The underlying goal of Smoke Free Wisconsin is to convince the people of this state that they are nothing more than helpless idiots who cannot think for themselves or make their own choices.

...

Sometimes the best way to weaken an enemy is to avoid their strong points and attack a seemingly benign target. To accomplish this goal, we need to filter away the politically correct garbage and public health crap and expose the insulting and offensive nature of Smoke Free WI; namely that the people can't take care of themselves. Operation Mollycoddle is to be a tactical strike directed at the people of Wisconsin; not Smoke Free Wisconsin. Our goal is to piss off the common citizens so badly that they will turn against the ban advocates.

...

Just remember, people are easy to offend and bring to anger. A few simple insults is usually all it takes, especially if you're insulting their intelligence or their ability to think for themselves. A precision strike at people's "anger buttons" is a much more effective method than chasing the anti-tobacco zealots around.

So in order to bolster their cause, Ban the Ban seems to be advocating the use of mollycoddling to tell the people they're being mollycoddled by Smoke Free Wisconsin. Interesting. Instead of speaking plainly and sticking to the facts, both methods that seem to have failed them totally (understandably), they're now going to "avoid [the opposite sides'] strong points" and "filter away the politically correct garbage and public health crap."

That "public health crap" they're talking about are the inconvenient facts about second-and-first-hand smoking:
  • EPA has concluded that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in adults who do not smoke. EPA estimates that exposure to secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths per year in nonsmokers.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke has also been shown in a number of studies to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • ETS is a human lung carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. nonsmokers. ETS has been classified as a Group A carcinogen under EPA's carcinogen assessment guidelines. This classification is reserved for those compounds or mixtures which have been shown to cause cancer in humans, based on studies in human populations.
  • There are conclusive published studies that indicate increased risk of lung cancer in nonsmoking women living with smoking husbands or working with smoking co-workers.
It goes on and on. But still, some anti-ban activists don't seem to give a shit about their own health, let alone that of the people around them. This isn't a matter of Smoke Free Wisconsin (or any other pro-ban group) accusing the people of not being able to think for themselves. It's a matter of keeping those who have thought for themselves and still decided that they don't care about public health from hurting others. Y'know, like laws against assault.

Regardless, Ban the Ban seem hell-bent on mollycoddling the state, apparently thinking so little of their fellow citizens as to believe they can be duped into believing the crap that BtB is putting out there, in the air, for all to breathe.

(cross-posted from dane101.com)

4 comments:

Ryan said...

Just out of curiosity, do you know the definition of "mollycoddle?" You seem to have things a bit backwards here, as our purpose is not to mollycoddle the state, but to expose the fact that the people are being mollycoddled by the nannies out there.

Thank you for the glowing review by the way. I'm glad that you appreciate our work. I'll keep you in mind next time I need a babysitter to take care of us.

Emily said...

Ooo, you're clever. How's that working out for you?

Ryan said...

Quite dandy actually. It keeps me entertained anyway.

Actually, not nearly as entertaining as you, however. I'm actually rather curious... Why the bitterness? I generally try very hard not to make things political since I play both sides of the fence on the smoking ban issue - but on the other hand, I can't help but to lump you into the artsy liberal busybody camp.

It intrigues me that you so willingly buy into the silly secondhand smoke arguments and so adamantly hold them up as gospel, yet you pointedly refuse to acknowledge that there just might be a world outside of your own opinionated world view.

You see what you want to and pick your arguments based strictly on that. You fail to see the point (or humor) in what we're doing and so therefore you angrily and irrationally attack it. Shrewd, but a bit juvenile, don't you think?

Either way, I do find you mildly amusing, so please do keep up the good work.

Emily said...

Wow, you're good, I'll give you that. But let's address a few points, shall we (sorry, that's my liberal artsy side showing)?

First, the facts about secondhand smoke aren't something I'm just making up because it's fun. They're well-researched truths, and frankly, I like my lungs to be in pretty good shape so breathing other people's smoke is not so much something I'm keen on doing. I've lots of smoker friends who even agree with the ban, so clearly it's not a one-sided issue.

Secondly, how exactly do you "play both sides of the fence" on this issue, and more importantly, why? I, too, don't see this as a political issue so much and as a public health and safety one--like chemicals in drinking water or airborne pollutants.

And you're wrong: I do see the point and the humor in what you all are doing, even if that humor is a bit on the black (and tarry) side. See there? I made a joke. The rest of this issue, sadly, isn't that much of a laughing matter. Even if that does make me a busybody.

The Lost Albatross