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Congress turns its back on teen smoking, drinking
You should be scared to death.
Just when teen-age drinking and drug use are rising again, the U.S. House is dismantling the infrastructure that reduced adolescent drug use by two-thirds between 1979 and 1992.
What's going on here?
According to press reports, the tobacco and alcohol industries outspent most others in campaign contributions for the November elections, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich is Congress' top recipient of tobacco industry funds. What could Congress do for these industries to stimulate such largess?
In the 1970s, with a legal drinking age of 18, drunken-driving crashes killed so many teen-agers their life span decreased, while every other age group's increased. Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied states to raise the drinking age to 21, but local alcohol reps opposed those efforts successfully, and nothing changed until MADD persuaded Congress to deny federal highway funds to states that refused to raise the drinking age. The universal age of 21 that resulted saved 14,000 teen-age lives.
So what did the new House do? It introduced a bill to repeal the federal law.
the Centers for Disease Control and several U.S. surgeons general, smoking-related
diseases kill more than 450,000 Americans annually, and the longer we
can keep kids from starting to smoke, the less likely they'll become addicted,
lifelong smokers. Some also warned about the dangers of kids drinking
and driving, including former surgeon general C. Everett Koop, whose drunken-driving
task force was nearly sabotaged when the National Beer Wholesalers Association
sued to stop it from convening. What did the new House do? It voted to
abolish the surgeon general's office.
Fewer kids drinking and smoking is good for kids but bad for profits, and we've just seen what happens when a contest develops between the two. Kids lose hands-down.
The tobacco industry responded to President Clinton's regulations to reduce teen-age smoking by filing suit to tie them up in court for years.
Local drug-prevention efforts are financed primarily by the federal government. Who else is going to pay for prevention - the Cali cartel? R.J. Reynolds? Miller Beer?
But what has the new House done? It has nearly eliminated prevention funding, slashing drug-education funds from $ 462 million to $ 200 million, and dealing a mortal blow to the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention by eliminating all grants the center awards to local groups to develop and test the effectiveness of prevention.
The House also killed funding for the center's national clearinghouse, which provides free information about drugs to parents, teachers, children and others.
Worse still, the House passed a law to silence the non-profits that produced the stunning decline in kids' drug use.
Under this law, non-profits that receive federal funds may not engage in "political advocacy" - as in, say, a prevention group asking for a local ordinance to stop the selling of single cigarettes to kids, advocating measures to outlaw drug paraphernalia or begging states not to lower the drinking age if Congress repeals the federal law.
It turns out that the beer industry is behind the effort to destroy the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention and restrict non-profits, according to The Wall Street Journal, which reported that the beer wholesalers "sent out 7,000 faxes to . . . members and had five employees working the phones, cajoling wholesalers across the country to call their representatives" to get the House to pass the bill. "We want to cut their funding, stop their lobbying and basically end the use of that structure to bash the beer industry," a wholesaler told the newspaper. Financed by profits, business groups don't need public funds for support and are free to engage in as much political advocacy as they like.
A few days before Clinton moved to reduce tobacco sales to kids, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution reported that R.J. Reynolds and the Georgia chapter of the beer wholesalers engaged in a different sort of political advocacy, called junkets. The wholesalers paid for Georgia lawmakers and their wives to meet at a Florida resort, while the trip RJR helped to finance replaced wives with exotic dancers to entertain lawmakers at a South Carolina coastal resort.
It is legal for these industries to finance campaigns, take lawmakers on junkets and lobby Congress to kill federal agencies and non-profits that place a higher priority on kids' lives than on bottom lines. But an arrogance of lawmakers made it legal.
Today, money talks and big money talks loudest, drowning out the voice of the electorate. The Senate changed its rules to stop this. Did the new House? Of course not.
You can do two things to protect your kids from the new House:
-- Ask your senators to fix this now.
-- Tell your representative your vote is worth more than money - and use it next year to throw out of office every Republican and Democrat who voted for these bills.
Beginning in the late 1970s, high school seniors started using alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs less often, according to a University of Michigan study and other reports by health and drug information groups. But the decline hit bottom in 1992 and ongoing study now shows use growing again.
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