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EDITORIAL: Girl Scouts take on Big Tobacco, and win

By: The Gazette editorial board
February 8, 2018 Updated: February 9, 2018 at 1:54 am
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photo - Tobacco advocates litter battlefields with opponents, but met their match when Girl Scout Troop 60789 said enough is enough. Associated Press file photo.
Tobacco advocates litter battlefields with opponents, but met their match when Girl Scout Troop 60789 said enough is enough. Associated Press file photo. 

To battle a giant, send in the Girl Scouts — a special-forces team Big Tobacco should fear.

The tobacco industry sets the standard for lobbyists. The industry's stealth, formidable tactics affect outcomes in city, county, state and federal politics. The fast-growing marijuana industry follows Big Tobacco's model.

"The tobacco industry invented the kind of special-interest lobbying that has become so characteristic of late 20th- and earlier 21st-century American politics," explains Allan Brandt, dean of Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, as quoted by CNN.

The industry fights most efforts to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke.

"Smokefree laws result in a decline in the consumption of tobacco products, an increase in the cessation rate among smokers, and a decline in the social acceptability of smoking," explains a report by Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. "This all spells bad news for tobacco industry profits and explains why Big Tobacco is so highly motivated to oppose smokefree laws and to strip away control from local policymakers on the issue."

Politicians have every reason to pass laws protecting nonsmokers. The Centers for Disease Control reports 2.5 million deaths of nonsmokers by secondhand smoke since 1964. Secondhand smoke causes 7,300 lung cancer deaths each year.

Smoke-filled cars are small chambers of concentrated toxins, from which children cannot escape. The CDC reports secondhand smoke causes kids to suffer ear infections, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, a variety of respiratory ailments, and elevated risks of sudden infant death syndrome.

"The tobacco industry is everywhere," Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights explains. "You will never see or hear from the tobacco industry directly — not in council meetings, not in the media ... Tobacco companies have worked hard to develop a system of front groups and allies that allow them to stay in the shadows and have others carry their message publicly, perhaps even unwittingly."

Colorado's Coalition for Equal Rights, state chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, and other organizations defend the "right" to produce secondhand smoke in confined spaces, without regard for the right of kids to breathe free.

Tobacco advocates litter battlefields with opponents, but met their match when Girl Scout Troop 60789 said enough is enough.

The girls embarked last spring on a community project to research the hazards of secondhand smoke. When they discovered the suffering smoke imposes on kids in cars, they set out to advocate legal protection for infants, toddlers and others younger than 18.

They won over Aurora Councilman Charlie Richardson, who took their research to the city attorney and proposed a law.

"When you talk about secondhand smoke in a very confined space like a vehicle, it's like secondhand smoke on steroids," Richardson said, as quoted in The Denver Post.

Five girls, four 13 and one 14, persuaded council to pass a law that seems generations overdue. The council voted 6-5 Monday to forbid vaping or smoking of tobacco or marijuana, in any vehicle containing one or more passengers under 18. Violators face mandatory community service and $150 fines.

Opponents on council argue the law will unfairly burden minorities and those with lower incomes, as they smoke at higher rates. It is a specious and ignorant point. If low-income and minority parents consume more tobacco, it means more low-income and minority children inhale harmful smoke. Politicians honestly concerned about low-income and minority demographics should be the first to champion this public health law.

It is hard to believe laws don't protect children throughout the country from mobile chambers of concentrated poison. The Colorado Springs City Council, Colorado legislators and Gov. John Hickenlooper should listen to the Girl Scouts. Do like Aurora, and free kids from toxic cars.

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