Saturday Mailbox


March 03, 2007

What vice will we seek to ban next?

With the approval of the city-wide smoking ban, the City Council undoubtedly feels it has scored a major coup that puts Baltimore alongside Chicago, Los Angeles and New York among the "trendy elite" of cities that have jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon ("Snuffed," editorial, Feb. 28).

While tobacco smoke may truly pose significant health risks, and this ban will be viewed by many people as progressive and positive, I think most of us may be missing the forest for the trees on this issue.

What should truly concern us more as Baltimoreans and Americans is a far more wide-sweeping and all-encompassing risk - the threat of a government growing beyond its intended scope to the point where it may soon threaten to encroach upon or cancel our most basic of rights, freedoms and liberties.

Where do we draw the line when it comes to protecting ourselves from ourselves?

Today, we are banning indoor smoking.

What's next? Banning fast food because of its fat content? Banning lawn fertilizer because of the hazardous chemical residue?

Will the wealth and political clout of the insurance and health care industries succeed in rendering moot the preferences and rights of individuals?

While I don't anticipate that anti-smoking regulations will cause nearly the uproar that Prohibition brought about, did we not learn from our past mistakes?

Did we not learn that we Americans value our leisurely indulgences and the right to practice them unfettered? Or are we destined to repeat our errors ad nauseam?

It wasn't all that long ago that a simple tea tax stirred our forefathers to revolt.

These men fought to break free of tyranny and restrictions, and to create the great nation we call our home.

But today, we have helmet laws, seatbelt laws, "gun control" laws, red-light cameras, surveillance cameras on street corners and now entire nonsmoking cities and counties.

Somehow, I don't think that this is what our Founding Fathers had in mind.

And it makes me wonder what will spur the next great revolt in this country

Could it be the cheeseburger?

Gregory Ricas


Tax tobacco to care for state's uninsured

In Maryland, nearly 800,000 men, women and children lack medical insurance.

This strains our state's superb health care system and drives up the cost of health care for everyone with insurance.

During the current General Assembly session, we have a chance to make some important changes and to advance an agenda that's strongly supported in a recent poll that shows nearly 90 percent of Marylanders want action on health care access this session.

That same poll shows that eight out of 10 people favor a higher cigarette tax if it leads to wider health coverage.

That's a powerful public statement that our legislators should heed.

It's time to give more people health care coverage.

By approving a $1 increase in the state's cigarette tax, legislators could pay for expanded health care coverage for the poor, help small businesses find affordable insurance for their workers and reward companies that start wellness programs for workers ("Tax-increase discussions under way," Feb. 27).

This is a smart trade-off.

Every pack of cigarettes sold in Maryland costs this state nearly $14 in health care and smoking-related expenses.

That adds up to $2 billion in tobacco-related costs in Maryland each year.

If we raise the state tobacco tax by $1 a pack, it's estimated that 53,000 kids will never start smoking and 29,000 adults will quit smoking.

Let's expand health insurance access and give smokers another good reason to break that nasty habit.

A. Samuel Penn


The writer is a member of the boards of LifeBridge Health and Sinai Hospital.

Another failed effort to save city schools?

The Sun's article "Failing schools face big changes" (Feb. 27) reported on yet another program purported to be the cure for the ills of eight distressed city schools.

In this case, leading roles will be played by officials of Towson University and the Johns Hopkins University, as management of some schools will be turned over to them.

On the surface, this sounds good.

After all, if the current school administration is producing poor results, why not turn schools over to academics who might bring in effective ideas based on current research?

Reading between the lines, however, I find that this new program is actually a rescue effort for a previous save-the-day program that did not work.

I am talking about the vaunted five-year high school reform program that began in 2002 and was funded with $20 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other foundations.

I sat on a community board for this program until June 2004, when the task of breaking up Northern and Lake Clifton high schools into smaller units was completed.

It's true that creating smaller schools made management somewhat easier. But the issues of deficient academics and out-of-control student behavior were still quite overwhelming.

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