LETTER:Big Tobacco trying to rewrite laws

George Belitsos

What is wrong with this picture? A huge multinational corporation that sells an addictive and deadly product sends its lawyer to local business owners with promises of money to pay their legal bills. The corporation uses the local businesses to sue the local government to strike down an ordinance which helps prevent its deadly product from killing the addicted users and nonusers alike.

Sound like fiction? Like maybe the latest courtroom novel by John Grisham?

Well, unfortunately, it’s real and it’s happening right here in Ames.

Even if Philip Morris loses and ends up paying court costs, they are wasting taxpayers’ money as Ames must pay its very capable city attorney to defend its right to make local ordinances. Even though Iowa’s attorney general issued an opinion that the Ames ordinance is constitutional and a district court judge in two earlier court ruling upheld the Ames smoking ordinance, the tobacco giant lumbers onward. The Philip Morris lawsuit could take as long as two years in the Iowa Supreme Court. The sole motivation driving Philip Morris appears to be profit before anything else.

But why would that surprise us? Big Tobacco has always placed profits above the health and lives, not only of its addicted users, but also the involuntary smokers, those who inhale secondhand smoke in restaurants.

The Surgeon General and the National Academy of Sciences have examined the research evidence surrounding secondhand smoke. Both studies agreed: Exposure to other people’s smoke increases the risk of developing lung cancer. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), secondhand smoke increases the risk of damage to fetuses during pregnancy. Children of smokers have a greater risk of developing illnesses from colds and pneumonia to reduced lung function and severe asthma.

Secondhand smoke in restaurants puts everyone at risk. One study of tobacco in the work place found a 50 percent increase in lung cancer risk among food-service workers, many of whom are high school or college students.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? Obviously, it’s the disproportionate and undue influence of Philip Morris. Prior to their entry into the local debate, proponents of the tobacco ordinance and restaurateurs sat down together and planned a very workable compromise ordinance that was easily and successfully implemented as the first smoke-free dining ordinance in the state of Iowa.

We are fortunate to live in a community that supports laws that protect public health. Ames citizens don’t need Philip Morris rewriting our laws any more than we need to inhale secondhand smoke. I encourage Ames citizens to continue to voice their disappointment to the businesses and request that they abandon Big Tobacco’s lawsuit. Better business and better health will be the outcomes as Ames’ smoke-free dining ordinance continues to protect our public health.

George Belitsos


Ames Tobacco Task Force