Letters To The Editor


December 31, 2007

Even in wealthy Md., poverty takes its toll

Mary Ellen Vanni's thoughtful essay should be mandatory reading for every policymaker in Maryland ("High energy costs take a big toll on state's poor," Opinion Commentary, Dec. 26).

Her stark descriptions of poverty's immediate effects - of people too poor to afford adequate heat - and of the longer-term consequences of poverty - such as kids at higher risk of serious health, injury and nutritional problems - call out for action by the state's leadership.

The goal? Economic security for all Marylanders.

We live in the wealthiest state in America, and especially in light of the economic shot in the arm the state will get from the base realignment and closure process that will bring new jobs here and increase the state's tax base, it is easy to overlook the low-income neighborhoods and poor rural areas throughout Maryland.

But as the board chairman of the Maryland Rural Development Corp. - an anti-poverty agency that promotes the economic well-being of low-income families and communities in several counties - I have heard from families with children and grandchildren in the Head Start preschool program about their day-to-day struggles to cover their basic costs of living.

And in Harford County, for instance, by Thanksgiving this year, the Harford Community Action Agency had 1,000 more requests than last year for winter heating fuel assistance.

Maryland and America need a major national campaign to substantially reduce poverty and promote economic security for everyone in our nation willing to work for those goals.

Don Mathis


Cigar loophole lets youths get tobacco

The Sun is correct to call the failure of the legislature to tax little cigars the same way it taxes cigarettes a "glaring omission" ("Low-taxed tobacco," editorial, Dec. 26).

At a recent community roundtable with more than 50 teenagers and young adults from Baltimore, I heard about two other factors that contribute to the appeal of these products for young smokers.

First, little cigars, unlike cigarettes, can legally be sold individually - which makes them even easier to come by.

Second, little cigars come in flavors that include apple, cherry vanilla and cream.

These candy-flavored products especially appeal to youths who are being introduced to smoking for the first time.

Taxing little cigars in a manner similar to the taxes on cigarettes, outlawing the sale of single little cigars and banning candy flavors in tobacco are three steps the state should take to protect public health.

Dr. Megan Coylewright


The writer is a special assistant to Baltimore's health commissioner.

Tobacco taxes aren't about public health

Every wise person knows that taxing tobacco is not really in the interest of public health ("Low-taxed tobacco," editorial, Dec. 26). The only interest it serves is boosting the state's revenues.

If curtailing tobacco use were so vital to the public health, tobacco use would be outlawed.

I know the risks of smoking cigars, and I accept that risk for the enjoyment and relaxation that cigars deliver.

But if taxes become burdensome on cigars, I know of a strategy to offset that expense: I shall stop paying for my newspaper subscription and obtain my daily news and opinions from the Internet.

Jerry Czarski


Session was sneaky and uncalled for

Maryland law requires that there be extraordinary circumstances for a special legislative session to be called ("GOP lawmakers dealt setback," Dec. 27). But there is nothing unusual about government overspending and recklessly using taxpayers funds.

Unlike the rest of us, legislators do not have to live within their means.

The session was uncalled for, unnecessary, sneaky and probably illegal.

Chris Miles


Abstinence funding isn't really effective

In his letter "Abstinence program cuts pregnancy rate" (Dec. 19), Stan Koutstaal, a deputy commissioner in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, ascribes a decrease in birth rates to abstinence education because both happened at the same time.

Yet a 2004 study showed that sexual activity among high school youths declined significantly from 1991 to 1997, prior to large-scale funding of abstinence-until-marriage programs, but changed little from 1999 to 2003, when there was substantial federal funding of such programs.

In fact, abstinence education has been shown time and again to be a totally ineffective money-waster.

A different 2004 study concluded that "evaluations of the effectiveness of state-funded abstinence-until-marriage programs found no delay in first sex. In fact, of six evaluations that assessed short-term changes in behavior, three found no changes, two found increased sexual activity ... and one showed mixed results."

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