If you're the parent of a teenager and worried that they might become one of the 24,000 young Tar Heels who will start smoking this year; or if you're an employer or employee paying more out of pocket for your health care; or if you're a health care worker or the family member of a heavy smoker and witness to the devastating effect of tobacco use; then you may want to jot this number down: 715-3019.
That's the office number of Rep. Bill Faison, who represents all of Caswell County and half of Orange County. He's one of a handful of elected officials leading the charge against North Carolina achieving sanity when it comes to a tobacco tax. Faison is quite willing to acknowledge the ill effects of smoking, and he's no doubt equally aware of statistics like the number of kids in this state who start smoking each year and the thousands of illnesses and deaths and health care dollars ($1.9 billion annually in North Carolina alone) attributable to an aggressively marketed, addictive product. But for all his knowledge and stated concern, he's holding fast to something more important--his political hide.
He got elected in part by promising the tobacco farmers of Caswell and Orange he'd fight an increase in the tax (now the nation's lowest, after Kentucky and Virginia upped theirs this year), and he's determined to deliver.
What's really sad about this is that the stars were finally lining up for North Carolina to shed some of the vestiges of long passed economic realities that keep the tax unnaturally low and the number of teens who start smoking each year unnaturally high.
But opponents are pulling out the stops again, using old, tired and grossly inaccurate arguments like how it'll hurt the farmers and those wonderful billboard-loving J&R outlets along the highways. But N.C. leaf now represents just a tiny fraction of what goes into smokes, and less than one-third of one percent of the land in Orange County and only about one percent of the land in Caswell County is still in tobacco. Buyout cash and economic development money is available for rural communities trying to kick the habit.
Meanwhile, the legislature is still struggling with its political addiction, as Barbara Solow's interview with Rep. Faison.
That a few would trash a deal that offers better health for this state's citizens, a better future for our kids and a much needed boost in revenue doesn't make sense to us. If it doesn't make sense to you, either feel free to give Rep. Faison a call. Ask him why keeping his political promises trumps doing the right thing for all of us.