Holy smokin’ lobbyists

If the audio electronics dealers had a paid lobbyist in the Nevada Legislature, you wouldn’t be hearing about lawmakers backing a bill to limit noisy, “kidney-busting” car stereos. Jeez, the lobbyist would say. Imagine cops having to go around with decibel-o-meters, saying, “Turn that thing down, or we’re gonna take you down.”

A paid lobbyist deals with this kind of nonsense daily. For example, when some sneaky person thought to add language to a Senate bill that would have allowed local school boards in Nevada the option of creating non-smoking campuses, the lobbyists were right on top of the situation.

Bad, bad, bad, said Sam McMullen, a paid lobbyist for tobacco giant Philip Morris. Teacher unions will get mad, he cautioned state senators. Parents will get mad. People must be allowed to smoke in Nevada’s schools.

Though public support was running about five to one in favor of allowing schools the choice to ban smoking on campus, the language was removed. Lest there be any doubt about the wisdom of this idiocy, an informal RN&R poll of everyone I know unanimously voted it “the stupidest thing we’ve heard of lately.” If a school board decides there’s enough support for smoke-free schools and campuses, it ought to be able to make this radical move. I just can’t see the down side to this.

After its recent strip down from the Senate Judiciary Committee, SB 258 does almost nothing to impose “new and tougher statewide anti-smoking rules,” as reported in the Reno Gazette-Journal. Unless you count the legislators allowing a requirement for Millennium Scholarship recipients to sign a no-smoking pledge.

“All the language relating to local control was taken out in committee,” mourns Daniele Dreitzer, interim vice president for cancer control at the American Cancer Society’s Las Vegas office. Many Nevadans, she says, mistakenly think that tobacco companies have less power now that they’ve given the state some settlement money. Not so.

“This is a perfect example of how much control they still have,” she says. “We get up in arms about violence on TV and how that affects behavior. But more kids will die of a smoking-related illness than will die of any violent activity.”

Nevada has the highest percentage of tobacco smokers in the nation, she notes. If we take that threat seriously, she says, we ought to rethink the messages we send to kids: “When kids see teachers and parents smoking, it establishes smoking as a norm.”

Still, we let them eat smoke. Why? Hmm. Well, the tobacco industry did donate about $78,000 directly to Nevada legislators in 1996 and 1998, according to the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada’s Cashing-In 1999 report. In 1999, big tobacco won all its legislative battles, including a fatal blow to AB 331, a bill similar to this year’s now-emasculated Senate bill that would have allowed more local choices.

Dreitzer concedes that it might be too late to fix this bill this session. Northern Nevadans can call Dr. Colleen Hughes of the Washoe County Anti-Tobacco Coalition at 328-2442 to get involved. And let legislators know what you think anyway, because the issue will be back in 2003.