LITTLE ROCK - Gov. Mike Huckabee, who successfully pushed for a statewide workplace smoking ban earlier this year, predicted Wednesday that cigarettes eventually won't be sold because of their health risks.
"I think the day will come when we probably won't" sell cigarettes, Huckabee said on his monthly call-in radio show. "If cigarettes were introduced to the marketplace today, they wouldn't be sold. They'd never make it because what we didn't know when they were first created, sold and marketed is just how deadly harmful they were."
Huckabee was responding to a caller's question of why cigarettes are allowed to be sold if they are so harmful. The governor fielded complaints from at least two callers about the state smoking ban, which went into effect July 21.
Under the ban, violators could face fines of up to $500 for a criminal violation and $1,000 for a civil violation. The criminal penalties are already in effect; civil penalties go into effect Aug. 10.
The state has received about 250 complaints of violations of the new law since it went into effect last month, Arkansas health officials said earlier this week.
The law allows smoking areas in certain businesses, including small hotels and motels, retail tobacco stores and long-term care facilities. The law also includes an exemption for bars and restaurants that don't admit people under 21.
At least 130 businesses have applied for an exemption.
The governor has been targeted regularly on his radio show by smokers who say the ban violates their rights. One caller asked why the state doesn't charge nonsmokers for clean air.
Huckabee said the smoking ban is not an attempt to prevent people from smoking, but is a way to protect nonsmokers from tobacco's harmful effects.
"It's not about denying people the right to do something dangerous," he said. "Smoking is unequivocally dangerous...The question is, should the rest of us be responsible for any of the harm?"
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Customs officers seized 3m counterfeit and illegally imported cigarettes in the North West in one 24-hour period.
HM Revenue and Customs officials said the seizures, which took place between 27 and 28 July, offer a snapshot of the ongoing work to tackle tobacco fraud.
The figure includes more than 2.5m non-UK duty paid cigarettes seized in an industrial unit in Lancashire.
Officers also stopped 34 passengers carrying 157,410 cigarettes through Manchester and Liverpool airports.
Linda Paul, HMRC head of detection in the North West, said they were determined to stop those bringing tobacco illegally into the country.
She said their actions were responsible for undercutting small business, undermining efforts to reduce smoking and depriving the Exchequer of valuable tax revenue.
During the 24-hour period last week, customs officers seized cigarettes being posted to UK addresses and found other consignments hidden in freight containers.
"This illegal activity should be condemned by the public," said Mrs Paul.
"Cigarette smuggling and counterfeiting is an organised crime as these routine seizures demonstrate, often linked to money laundering and drugs."
Marriott International Inc., the nation's largest hotel chain, said yesterday that it will ban smoking in its nearly 400,000 hotel rooms in the United States and Canada, casting the decision as less about public health and more about taking care of the bottom line.
Two decades ago, about half the company's rooms were set aside for smokers, but demand has steadily dropped, with only 5 percent of customers now requesting smoking rooms. At the same time, complaints about cigarette odor have increased, and company officials have struggled to address the issue.
Marriott, which will enforce its ban by charging violators $200 to $300, follows that of the Westin Hotels & Resorts chain, which late last year announced it was making all 77 of its properties smoke-free. Since then, business has grown stronger, said Sue Brush, a senior vice president with Westin, which is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.
David Webb of Huntsville, Tex., was smoking yesterday outside of a Ritz-Carlton in the District, where he was staying. He said he requests nonsmoking rooms because he "cannot stand the smell of old smoke in rooms." He smokes outside, and said a smoke-free environment was an incentive to stay at a Marriott property.
Airlines banned smoking on their flights only after the federal government passed a law requiring such bans in the 1990s. Restaurants and bars are increasingly becoming smoke-free zones, now that more than 2,200 municipalities have smoking restrictions. Marriott executives said there was no government involvement in their decision to end smoking throughout their more than 2,300 hotels.
The Bethesda firm, which had been reserving 10 percent of its rooms for smokers, said the decision was most closely tied to guest satisfaction.
"Complaints about smoking is one of the biggest complaints we have," said Steve Lampa, the company's senior vice president of rooms operations and quality assurance. "Clearly there will be some guests who smoke that won't agree with this decision and may decide to move elsewhere. We don't think there will be a negative financial impact."
Marriott executives considered Westin's positive experience with its ban when making their decision, the company said. Executives also said they were influenced by the reported dangers of secondhand smoke, including a recent surgeon general's report on the subject.
Several industry observers think there is a good chance other major hotel chains will follow Marriott's move. About 21 percent of the U.S. population smokes.
"This tips the hotel industry so now virtually every hotel will have to go nonsmoking," said Edward Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality, a leading trade publication. "Marriott is the leader of the pack. Once they do it, every company will have to do that. They just have so many hotels. It's a matter of competitive pressure."
Public health and anti-smoking advocates cheered the move as a key victory in their attempts to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.
Frances Stillman, co-director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University, said Marriott's decision was particularly important for public health advocates' efforts to shake off arguments by the tobacco industry that smoking bans are bad for business.
"This decision is proving that it doesn't hurt business to ban smoking," said Stillman, who is on the faculty of the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Finally, the economic argument and the public health argument are coming together. Companies are realizing that public health is good for business."
Smoking-rights advocates were not pleased.
"We believe it is discrimination, and we are not going to recommend to our members that they stay at a Marriott-branded hotel," said Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which represents tobacco manufacturers, distributors and retail outlets.
Several dozen hotels, mostly boutiques, followed Westin and banned smoking last year. So did individual owners of about 50 Marriott-branded hotels, factoring into Marriott's sweeping ban.
Executives at the company had been trying to solve smoking complaints for the past couple of years, according to Lampa. The company tried more frequent cleanings. They tried high-tech air-treatment machines, air deodorants and further segmenting the smoking rooms.
"None of which was 100 percent effective," Lampa said. "It's been pretty frustrating. We thought we could crack this nut."
Ultimately, Marriott executives concluded that the only way to eliminate the problem was to eliminate smoking.
"I think this is an appropriate response, and it clearly shows leadership on the part of the company," said Thomas J. Baltimore, the president of Bethesda's RLJ Development LLC, one of the largest franchisees of Marriott hotels. "I think from a customer perspective, it will be widely well received, and I would think it would have minimal impact on demand for them."
Marriott said the ban will begin in September, after the company cleans the smoking rooms. Guests will be informed of the policy -- and potential penalty fee -- during check-in. The ban does not extend to Marriott's approximately 500 other properties outside the United States and Canada.
"I don't know how it will affect Marriott's business," said Steve Morrison of Wheeling, W.Va., who was staying at a Marriott in the District. "It makes me want to stay there more."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Minnesota (Blue Cross) has announced a new policy to issue refunds to
nonsmoking individual policyholders who, although eligible, have not been
paying tobacco-free premium rates.
"Blue Cross has done more to promote smoking cessation and prevent
tobacco use than any other health plan nationally," said Richard Neuner,
senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "This new policy is
directly related to our commitment to promote and reward healthy behaviors.
We want to make sure that our members who don't use tobacco are rewarded in
any way that we can."
Approximately 12 percent of individual policyholders and five percent
of Medicare Supplement policyholders currently pay the standard or
tobacco-user premium rate -- roughly consistent with overall rates of
tobacco use among Blue Cross members. Individual Blue Cross policyholders
are eligible for tobacco-free rates, which are lower, if they have been
tobacco-free for at least 24 months. For Medicare Supplement policies, 36
tobacco-free months are required, recognizing the long-term negative health
effects of tobacco use.
If individual and Medicare Supplement policyholders find that they
inadvertently checked the wrong tobacco use status box on their policy
application, or have not informed Blue Cross that they have quit using
tobacco, all they have to do is call Blue Cross for details on a potential
Blue Cross has offered a tobacco-free rate since 1983 when we
introduced AwareCare insurance products for individuals. Earlier policies
did not offer this discount. Employers who provide group coverage make the
determination on their own whether to consider tobacco use status in
employees' contributions to their health care coverage. Blue Cross
currently insures 227,000 persons in the individual and Medicare Supplement
Individual and Medicare Supplement policyholders who do not smoke or
chew tobacco and think they might qualify for a refund can call Blue Cross
toll-free for more information at 1 (888) 878-0137.
Like most other insurance industries -- health, life, auto -- Blue
Cross offers discounted rates on individual and Medicare Supplement
policies for people who don't use tobacco. Smoking is the leading cause of
preventable death and smokers overall tend to have higher health care
costs. Each year, smoking kills 5,600 Minnesotans and is responsible for
nearly $2 billion ($1.98 million) in excess medical care expenditures (Blue
Cross Center for Tobacco Reduction and Health Improvement 2005 study of MN
Department of Health data.)
"To make sure our premiums are accurate, we regularly remind people of
the tobacco-free rates," Neuner said. "It's on the application form, in
materials we send out upon enrollment and in annual policy renewal letters.
The renewal materials have also regularly included a chart showing the
standard and tobacco-free premium rates. Two years ago, we added a note to
billing statements, as well, indicating whether members are charged the
standard or tobacco-free rate."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with headquarters in the St.
Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health
plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today: to promote a
wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the
people of Minnesota. A not-for-profit, taxable organization, Blue Cross is
the largest health plan based in Minnesota, covering 2.7 million members in
Minnesota and nationally through its health plans or plans administered by
its affiliated companies. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an
independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association,
headquartered in Chicago. Go to http://www.bluecrossmn.com to learn more
about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota