TOM DAVIES: The Verdict —N.D. Ballot Measures Demand Good, Healthy Dose Of Common Sense

Between Marsy’s Law and the bill to increase taxes on tobacco in North Dakota, a whole lot of common sense has gone missing.

Marsy is the sister of a wealthy California man who was stalked and killed by her ex-boyfriend in 1983. Marsy’s brother is trying to buy his way into our constitution. With all of the sense of a bull in a china shop, he suggests the law he promotes will save and hold harmless all victims.

Judges and lawyers,  both prosecutors and defense attorneys,  say the initiated amendment — Measure 3 on next week’s ballot — is not needed.

Have there been some miscarriages that hurt victims? Yes. Has the state enacted procedures now in place to correct these few miscarriages of justice? Yes. Can any perceived issues that may exist be fixed by proposing statutory relief instead of a constitutional amendment? Yes.

Measure 4, the initiated measure to increase taxes on tobacco, has drawn more comments in letters to the editor and social media than I would have anticipated. People just don’t get it. The idea is, in my opinion, to tax cigarettes out of existence or make it so difficult for people to buy the products that they won’t try. Thus, the tobacco industry will die a natural death … or, at least, the increased cost will dramatically decrease the use of the product.

I am all for it.

Talking about Measure 4, I’ve heard the same types of thoughtless questions: Why don’t we tax cars, then, since people are killed in accidents? Why do we want to put establishments that sell cigarettes out of business? Why do we want to stop some people from a habit that costs us nothing?

And more.

Examples of questions like these could fill page after page. I recommend a particularly good read — the column by editorial page editor Jack Zaleski in The Forum on Oct. 29. He makes a persuasive case for why the tobacco bill, Measure 4, should pass.

About that question about taxing cars? The person who raised it apparently forgets that we have a law requiring the vehicles and their drivers be insured. That doesn’t stop all accidents, but it goes a long way toward assisting the victims. People are killed, but the economic cost of sorts is partially covered by insurance. An accident by definition means something one did not anticipate or want to happen.

That claim that the tobacco tax would put companies out of business mystifies me. I’m aware of only a couple of tobacco-only businesses, and they would be the last to suffer, as compared to those who make profit from the sale of tobacco products as a way to attract customers to their wider enterprises and as a loss-leader item.

Those who claim their tobacco habit costs the rest of us nothing have not studied the issue. We try to stop our youth from smoking precisely because of its cost — not only to individuals to use tobacco but also to society that has to pay the price of the unhealthy tobacco addiction.

For now, let’s ignore the people who are still alive but cannot work as a result of health problems — some insured, many uninsured and even those with insurance only having partial coverage.

Who pays the balance of their health-care costs? We, the American taxpayers, do. Ask your state or local leaders about the cost to the public of care relating to tobacco-induced health problems. You will be shocked by the amount.

If you ignore the loss of life with attendant uninsured medical costs, and loss of productivity resulting in economic loss, you must be living in an alternate world. No one with health issues caused by tobacco expected to die of them. None of those who can’t work anticipated that result. None of those who have died wanted to die.

It’s a problem that we’ve ignored for far too long and one that must be addressed regardless of its effect on businesses that profit from the sale of this deadly product. A few will suffer for the benefit of the whole.

One person asked me, “Why there is no tax on alcohol, comparable to the tobacco tax?”

This is a question I cannot answer: I ask it, too … why is there no similar tax on alcohol?

Statistics show that the economic loss, the human loss, the medical costs and the number of lives ruined because of the abuse of alcohol make the tobacco problem pale in comparison.

Millions of people are arrested every year for DUI-APC (driving under the influence-actual physical control). The total number of arrests for underaged consumption and the resultant economic loss aren’t subject to effective computation. In North Dakota, where I live, both the state and the city of Fargo have regularly received the wonderful distinction of being the “drunkest state” and “drunkest city” in the country.

Every month, new alcohol-related businesses open in Fargo, as though the regulators had unplugged their brains. Walk Broadway late at night, and you’ll know what I mean. Fights break out. People are killed in and around places that serve alcohol in Fargo.

You read about the crimes … but do you read about any alcohol business losing its license for selling to an intoxicated person? Is it OK to serve a person to the point of intoxication and then send them out onto the streets?

I said this during my many years on the bench, and I continue to say it: The use and abuse of alcohol is and has always been a blight on our community. Where are our leaders? The police certainly do their jobs in maintaining the laws that are on the books — but how about giving them some reinforcement?

North Dakota State University has had alcohol problems with its students and has recognized it by setting parameters and developing student programs. NDSU has done a great job of doing what it can to address the issue, but it can’t stop it.

When I heard that Concordia College was going to allow booze in the dorms, I just gasped. There is a drinking problem at Concordia, too, and school officials know it.

If one had the brains God gave a goat, you’d know that by opening the door at Concordia, it also opens the door to problems that will not be able to either be controlled or justified. Young people learn from experience, just as we old folks do. But we seniors are past the experimental stage, while the youngsters are still going through it.

Does anyone remember the NDSU student who was murdered in Moorhead or the State College of Science student who died in the Red River near Wahpeton, N.D.? Both in their prime … both with their futures ahead of them … both dead because of situations they found themselves in, one with alcohol and the other with drugs. (Some of that NDSU student’s friends are absolute cowards for still not talking to the authorities about what they know.)

My point is this: You send your children to college, or they finance it themselves … so the environment should be as safe as can be. Anyone who says that alcohol isn’t a problem on area campuses is either lying or totally uninformed.

So what do I think about an alcohol tax? I think you know my answer. I’m in favor of anything, including a big tax on alcohol, that would contribute to reducing the human and economic loss.

Right now, the focus is on tobacco because it’s an easier target. If you were to try to tax and improve liquor sale liability, you’d find little support — not because it is not necessary, but because it demands too much courage to propose it. And politicians, as a general rule, aren’t too crazy about having their own social activities modified.

Forming a task force to address liquor issues that’s composed of a majority of license holders is not an acceptable makeup. Having said that, I must add that my experience with individuals on the task forces when I was on the bench was very good. But back then, it was a mixed group.

The late Joe Dill, then editor of The Forum, joined the local DUI task force and talked me into leading it. I was reluctant, but that man could sweet talk the coyotes down out of the hills, so I agreed. Go back into the newspaper’s archives to read more about it. With the unconditional support of The Forum, our task force raised my kind of hell to focus on the situation.

I miss Joe to this day for his deeply held concern with the problems alcohol causes.

I can make a prediction without hesitation — if Joe were still with us to raise his voice, Concordia would reconsider exposing itself and its students to the problems that will surely come if they open the door to booze.

But there’s one bit of good news out there: Good Lord, only a few days to go and the national election will be over. Amen.

2 thoughts on “TOM DAVIES: The Verdict —N.D. Ballot Measures Demand Good, Healthy Dose Of Common Sense”

  • Dale Stensgaard November 2, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    I’m pretty sure there are already taxes on alcohol, federal ones I think. Of course, they aren’t as cost-prohibitive as the proposed tobacco tax increase. There also is a sales tax on alcohol.

  • Big Tobacco November 3, 2016 at 12:52 am

    Alcohol taxes are already high enough. Tobacco should be tax exempt.


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