Philip Morris money influence on Virginia lawmakers..

December 21, 2008 - Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's call for increasing the state tax on cigarettes from 30 cents a pack to 60 cents was long overdue. The proposal to increase the cigarette tax as part of a larger plan to address the state's expected $2.9 billion budget shortfall. Virginians have to pay another $233 million a year in taxes just to support Medicaid costs related to smoking. Kaine believes that the taxes on smoking should pay for the budget costs incurred because of smoking.

The Virginia Speaker of the House Willam J. Howell, Virginia's top Republican lawmaker (28th District District includes County of Stafford (part); City of Fredericksburg), has pronounced Kaine's proposal dead on arrival. Why??

The Altria Group, the parent of Philip Morris, contributes more money to political campaigns than any other tobacco company. On its Web site, Altria identifies the recipients of the nearly $7 million doled out by its political action committee in 2008. (That figure does not include contributions by individual corporate officials.)

In Virginia Altria, contributed cash to 28 of Virginia's 40 senators and 85 of its 100 House of Delegates. Tobacco contributions helped elect the chairman and vice-chairman of powerful committees such as the House Appropriations Committee, the House Finance Committee and the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee.

As we know, tobacco products are the only products that if used as directed will kill you. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S. resulting in more than 438,00 deaths each year. Philip Morris has over a 50% share in the domestic cigarette market.

Polls done by anti-smoking groups have consistently shown that voters support increased sales taxes on cigarettes, perhaps because most voters don't smoke. The people must step up and stop the process of buying influence.

If a higher cigarette tax is supported by residents and would help protect children, save lives and generate needed funds to pay for vital state services, then voting for it would appear to be a no-brainer -- except, it seems, to the 113 Virginia politicians whose hands are stuck deep in tobacco's pockets. At present, politics at every level has been tainted by the corrosive influence of money. This has to stop.

Reference: Tobacco's Money Trail in Virginiaby Pete Earley
The Washington Post, 12/21/2008; Page B07.

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