• 22.12.2012 Berryville Bust Part Of $33M Cigarettes Sting

    A Federal Grand Jury sitting in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in Harrisonburg has indicted dozens of individuals for conspiring to traffic in contraband cigarettes, money laundering and a variety of related charges.The defendants were charged by the grand jury in four separate indictments returned under seal on February 17, 2011, August 3, 2011 and October 6, 2011. Those indictments were unsealed earlier this week following the arrest and initial court appearances by the defendants.The charges are the result of a three-year investigation by the United...

  • 20.11.2012 Covenant Kicks The Habit

    Amy Olson-Yarbrough was tired of being a prisoner to tobacco."I decided I didn't want cigarettes to control my life any more," Olson-Yarbrough said. "When you're a smoker you have to figure out where you're going to be able to smoke cigarettes next, how long until my next cigarette, how am I going to hide it from my kids . . ."So, on Nov. 23, 2010, Olson-Yarbrough - a pack-a-day smoker who had been at it for close to two decades - quit smoking cigarettes.Now, Olson-Yarbrough can't stand anything about it."The smell of buy cigarettes really nauseates me," she said. "I'll never go back to...

  • 18.10.2012 No-smoking Policy For New Hires

    Should smokers who want to work for the county be forced to sign a pledge they will quit smoking cigarettes — and then be required to follow through before starting work?Should they pay more for their health-care coverage if they don’t keep the pledge, or decline to sign it?Is it discrimination for government not to consider smokers to fill open positions?The Muscatine County Board of Supervisors decided to have the county’s Health and Safety Committee study the issue, which was brought up by Sheriff Dave White at the Board’s regular meeting Monday.White told the Board he’s heard...

  • 10.09.2012 Court Upholds Big Award In Smoker's Case

    A state appeals court upheld $13.8 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris on Wednesday for the addiction and death of a 45-year cigarette smoker, saying the company's decades of concealment and lies about the dangers of its products were "extremely reprehensible."In a 2-1 ruling, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles affirmed a verdict by a Los Angeles County jury in the case of Betty Bullock of Newport Beach (Orange County). Bullock had started smoking cigarettes Marlboros in 1956, at age 17, and quit in 2001 after she was diagnosed with lung cancer, two years...

  • 09.09.2012 California Court Approves 16:1 Punitive Damage Award

    Corporate America has pushed hard for years to hold the line on punitive damages, with some successThe Supreme Court has ruled that excessively high punitive damage awards, designed to punish defendants for particularly egregious behavior, can violate the Due Process clause. And the California Supreme Court had held that punitive damages typically should not be more than nine to ten times the size of damages awarded to compensate injured parties.But in a smoking cigarettes case against Philip Morris, a California appellate court yesterday signed off on punitive damages that were 16 times...

Why A Cigarettes Tax To Help End Shutdown Is Smart

Pundits like to suggest that state government is in crisis because of today's budget deadlock. But in truth the challenges facing Minnesota are no different than the ones faced in Washington or in most state capitals.

Our state and our country are changing. People are getting older while we are producing fewer workers, and our gains in productivity aren't large enough to fill the gap between growth in the users of government services and the relatively flat growth of tax revenue.

As the CEO of an organization that provides valuable services to disadvantaged adults, and as a former regional administrator for the Metropolitan Council, I have a real appreciation for the arguments made on both sides of the political debate.

I firmly believe that government can and should live within its means. Families do, businesses do, and we all struggle to pay higher taxes every year. However, we also cannot ignore the important role government plays in service delivery.

The debate over the size of the state budget is masking a different debate. Regardless of whether your number is $34 billion or $36 billion, how should we tax Minnesotans?

Just as lawmakers shouldn't assume that the same level and types of services are needed every year, they should also evaluate the tax policies used to create the revenue needed to run government.

The smartest tax choice that legislators could make in special session is to raise the price of tobacco. The Minnesota Department of Revenue recently released numbers that show a $1.50 per pack tobacco price increase would raise nearly $400 million during the next two years alone.

That's a number policymakers can trust and an amount that could go a long way toward bridging the gap that remains between the governor and the Legislature.

To his credit, the governor included a tobacco tax increase in a recent offer. Legislative leaders dismissed it out of hand as just another tax increase. But a tobacco price increase would do more than help get us through this budget debate.

It would tackle one of the state's most preventable and costly long-term financial challenges: tobacco use and its harm on Minnesotans. Smoking kills more than 5,100 Minnesotans a year and accounts for almost $3 billion a year in excess health care costs.

Those costs are part of the reason that health care inflation is a major challenge for the state budget -- we spend too much money treating the illnesses caused by tobacco instead of following proven ways of keeping people from smoking cigarettes.

Fortunately, raising the price of tobacco is one of the best ways to keep youth from starting to smoke. In addition, a $1.50 per pack increase is expected to lead 28,100 current adult smokers to quit.

An increase in the tobacco tax should not be looked upon as just another way to raise new revenue. Proceeds from a tobacco tax increase could be used to offset other taxes that provide disincentives to economic growth (such as the corporate franchise tax) or that stress lower-income households (such as the property tax or some of Minnesota's growing collection of fees).

In fact, lower-income households, which are disproportionately targeted by tobacco company marketing, could get a win-win with this approach -- offsetting another regressive tax while providing an effective incentive to stop smoking cigarettes.

With a strong majority of Minnesotans supporting a tobacco price increase -- nearly three out of five, according to one recent poll -- policymakers on both sides of the aisle can feel confident that a tobacco price increase is a big step in the right direction.