Historic tobacco bill could change the smoking game - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Historic tobacco bill could change the smoking game

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By Len Kiese - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - 20-percent of Americans smoke but the federal government is making a push to lower that figure. This week President Obama is expected to sign a bill that gives the government new power to regulate the tobacco industry.

Supporters say it will cut down on underage smoking. Critics say it's just another way for leaders to meddle in your personal life.

The ultimate goal of the Tobacco Bill is to save lives and much of the motivation behind the legislation is young folks. The hope is that if fewer of them pick up the habit, deaths from smoking will decrease. Some feel it's adding more smoke than a solution.  

At Woodall's on North Slappey Boulevard, there are two things selling quicker than the gas. "Beer and cigarettes," said cashier Charlotte Brooks.

Booze and smokes.  Brooks stays busy with customers selling what they call soft packs and hard packs. "The Marlboros, the Virginia Slims," said Brooks, "they even buy them by the cartons."

"Look around you. Everyone that's coming in here, 4 out of 5 are buying cigarettes," said Ramona Nelms. Nelms is one of the many buyers.

"Since I was 16. I'm 48 now," said Nelms.

She calls herself a long-time chain smoker, nursing an addiction to a drug. "You take the thing that matters the most to you and you multiply it. That's your drug. That's your cigarette," said Nelms.

Health officials say that addiction is a killer. "Smoking causes about 400,000 deaths in the United States every year," said Southwest Georgia Public Health Director Dr. Jacqueline Grant.

The government hopes a landmark tobacco bill will reduce those deaths. The measure will give the Food and Drug Administration more power to regulate what goes into tobacco products, put bolder warning labels on products and limit tobacco advertising. "That's an effort to protect the public's health and we see that as a major victory," said Grant.

"They can say whatever they want. It's not going to help the problem," said Nelms, "if you lessen the alcohol in beer, the alcoholic is still going to want it."

Nelms says it'll take more than a new bill. She wants the government to come up with a program to help smokers beat the habit. "Use Chantix. Use Nicoderm. Use whatever you have to and let the government subsidize it," said Nelms.

Until then, Nelms may not ever get rid of the addiction. "People say it's mind over matter. Yeah if you're strong enough. I'm sorry but I'm not," said Nelms.

The addiction will remain strong for some and cashiers like Brooks don't foresee business slowing down anytime soon. "I don't think so," said Brooks.

"You think they're going to smoke regardless?," we asked.   

"Oh yeah," said Brooks, "no matter what."

Under the bill, any tobacco-related sponsorships of sports or entertainment events will be eliminated. Also, there will be no more giveaways of free gifts when you buy tobacco products.

Those flavored or sweetened cigarettes will be taken off of store shelves along with any product being advertised as light or mild. An ultimate goal of the FDA will be to reduce the nicotine content in cigarettes.

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