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Anti-Tobacco Groups Lobby D.C. Council

Barrington M. Salmon | , WI Staff Writer | 3/28/2012, 9:48 a.m.

So in their visits to the offices of lawmakers including Michael Brown (I-At-Large), David Catania (I-At-Large), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), the group asked for the council members to commit to the $10.5 million figure.

"Well, I hope we get a significant amount because this is a significant problem," said Patricia Tompkins, of the Black Nurses Association of Greater Washington. "We have to keep the word out there. This is still a scourge that affects children [and] spouses. We're also aware of the growing number of young people smoking."

"I don't know if residents know that none of this tax money is going into prevention programs. We recognize that the city has overwhelming needs, but millions are poured into healthcare which in the long run we could be saving with prevention."

Christina Marsh, 24, could barely contain her displeasure.

"D.C. has one of the highest taxes on cigarettes but it's unacceptable that none of that money is going toward prevention," said Marsh, who is a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. "Our current state is not okay."

The District's tax on cigarettes is $2.50 a pack - 10th in the nation - which is funneled into the general fund.

Courtney Tyne, who participated as a private citizen and not on behalf of her employer, said although neither she nor her parents smoked, the more she's learned about the deleterious effects of tobacco use, the more she's redoubled her efforts to educate the community.

"The tobacco industry spends millions on young people and 88 percent of smokers start before age 18," the D.C. resident told Evans staffer Kevin Stogner. "Really what we're here for is for Mr. Evans to establish tobacco sustainability money for marketing and outreach. There is no local funding for tobacco programs in D.C. despite the enormous impact. Thirteen and a half million is spent in the District by the tobacco industry and as a resident, I really find that unacceptable. We're allowing them to target kids and craft the message."

Bonita Pennino, chair of the Policy Committee for the DC Tobacco Free Coalition and director of advocacy for the American Cancer Society, said tobacco companies stay busy developing killer products to lure young people into the smoking fold.

"They have bubble-gum-flavored snuff and loose tobacco and Snooze, in very colorful tins with pouches of tobacco that you stick in your cheek," she said. "I met a man in Maryland who lost the entire bottom half of his face and his tongue was split in half. He started smoking when he was young. [People who do this] are exposed to all kinds of cancers of the mouth, tongue, esophagus [and] digestive tract."

"Tobacco companies are making less expensive tobacco products and kids are price sensitive. It only takes one or two of these products to get addicted. If we can get the funding, tobacco control experts can come together and put together a comprehensive program targeted at kids."

Pennino said the District's lack of investment is even more shocking when compared to the FY 2012 tax revenues the city collected.