The Ever-Embarrassing Bill Faison

State Rep. Bill Faison defends his opposition to the cigarette tax increase in an interview with Barbara Solow in this week's Independent.

The incredible and troubling aspect of the interview is Faison's dismissive attitude toward the tremendous health problems and costs associated with tobacco. He tells Solow:

I know the health argument, but on balance, we have a lot of things that cause health problems. Sugar contributes to obesity. It could lead you to look at sugar as something that ought to be controlled.

"On balance"?!? Tell that to the families of the multitudes who die from smoking related illnesses each year.



What has he said that is inaccurate? If the basis for raising cigarette taxes is "cigarettes are bad for you and we want to discourage you from smoking by raising taxes", doesn't it follow that you could raise taxes on other unhealthy products using the same rationale? Obesity-related illness and diabetes are very high on the list of leading causes of death.

Why the outrage?

At this point, what are the costs associated with tobacco? Are those costs met by existing federal and state taxes, as well as the 1998 tobacco settlement?

It seems to me that because the payments made by tobacco companies to the states under the 1998 agreement depend on company revenues, that states actually have a vested interest in making sure there are sufficient number of smokers.

Let me put it another way....if every smoker in the United States stopped tomorrow, what would be the tax loss to state and federal treasuries?

I actually went back and read the interview with Faison, and his rationale seemed reasonable to me

1) He has a fair number of tobacco farmers in his district.

2) He promised those farmers that he wouldn't vote for a cigarette tax increase this session.

3) He did so because he feels that they require more time to retool their businesses and that they need the revenue from the Phase 2 settlement to do so, and a tax would cut consumption, which would phase 2 payments.

What did I miss?

It sounds like you deserve each other, I hope you guys live in Faison's district. I'm sure glad I don't!

I don't find Bill Faison's comments to be embarrassing at all and I actually reside in NC House District 50.


Likewise. Nothing personal towards the gentlelady, but I am glad Verla Insko is no longer my representative in the NC House.

Ya see, we really can all get along! We all have our districts! You know there are plenty of folks in rural Orange County who think Insko or Hackney are just as big as kooks as Dan Coleman thinks Faison is. So what? To each their own.

Ruby, as the Great Communicator would say, there you go again.

Why acknowledge facts when you've got feelings?

Right, Bill. Or as I would say "Why waste time arguing with trolls when you've got a life?"

Or I might add, more rationally, why waste time trying to change the mind of a conservative in Orange County?

It's hard to fathom his rationale, without drawing some damning conclusions. In one response he says he knows that tobacco is a health danger, but he wants people to keep smoking so tobacco farmers will get a larger buyout. Reckless disregard, hypocrisy, cynicism, denial, or some combination?

It took me a while to submit my comment, and in the meantime several comments have been made. But it is interesting and a bit horrifying to see that others here are willing to admit that money is worth more lives. I mean, you can have many arguments against additional taxes, but objecting on the grounds that it might reduce tobacco consumption is pretty heartless.

You throw the term troll around quite often, it seems pretty much when anyone disagrees with you. I think this is a good definition:

A newsgroup post that is deliberately incorrect, intended to provoke readers; or a person who makes such a post

Maybe I'm naive, but I'd say Bill and Chris (while dead wrong) sincerely believe they have a valid opinion. Wrong, yes. Troll, no.

Well, Ruby, there you go again again!

I guess this rule doesn't apply to you? "Honor your own viewpoints by expressing them thoughtfully, and treating your fellow discussers at least as well as you would treat your neighbor. Try to criciticize ideas instead of people. In other words, play nice!"

Everytime someone disagrees with you, you don't seem to have any factual argument to go back to and instead seem to just go to name calling and demonization.

I am surprised! I wonder why...?

Not just Faison, not just this decision.

The Democratic Party now controls the House, Senate, Governorship, Lt. Governorship, Attorney General, Secretary of State, etc. Yet, the legislation that is being passed could and probably WOULD be written by the national Republican party.

1. A poverty tax (sales tax).
2. A tax cut for those averaging $800,000 a year.
3. A tax cut for corporations.
4. A cut in Medicaid for elderly, blind, and disabled citizens.
5. A MINIMAL cigarette tax, I could six states with lower cigarette taxes.
6. A cut in alternatives for juvenile criminals.

That is just off the top of my head. What is so progressive about this? Am I wrong in thinking that our Senator voted FOR this Republicanesque budget? I know she is popular, but don't you think we might want to question WHY she would vote for this kind of budget?

I posted here on Bill Faison and a whole group of his votes that were aligned with REPUBLICANS and against the Democrats. If this is a Progressive Blog, then shouldn't we be opposing moderate or Democratic apologists? If any Senator and Representative should be progressive in NC it should be those representing Orange County. If not here, where. If not now, when.

I don't agree with Faison's choice (economics vs. health) in this instance but I don't think his position deserves the sarcasm of this headline. "On balance" I find it hard to make such clear distinctions between health and economics as Dan proposes. For example, the issue of bottled drinking water. I understand the reasons against NOT buying bottled water, but I also think that the jobs those corporations bring to low income communities provide some benefit. After living in north Florida for many years, around communities that had such poor educational systems that they were unable to attract any industry (couldn't provide a worker base), the bottled water industry added a commercial base that helped improve the county tax base and added jobs. Certainly those corps took a lot away in the form of future water supplies, but if those communities had no other choices available to them, doesn't it seem natural to chose TODAY rather than tomorrow?

Same for tobacco growers in NC. Farmers who have always grown tobacco cannot immediately turn their fields over into alternative income producing crops. The federal/state policy of phasing out tobacco supports recognizes that they need time in order to maintain their income sources. Now I personally think they should have all converted over already, but I'm not a second, third, fourth generation tobacco farmer.

Like I said, I don't agree with Faison's decision, but I don't think its embarassing or totally off-base. Like always though, I object to the over-simplification and discourteous nature of the posted discussion text.

Here's the problem, Dan, Bill Faison is right.Obeisity is listed as the #1 health problem in America by the NIH.There are a lot of other things that cause health problems. If you support the concept of " Sin taxes", then there really ought to be a tax on soda and candy bars, movie popcorn and a host of other things.

I happen to believe in sin taxes, Faison doesn't. I can live with that. I, like many of my neighbors with Chapel Hill adresses, have been pretty happy with the work Rep. Faison has done in his freshman term.

Oh my, the old "tax bad foods" argument again! Comparing tobacco to some foods simply isn't correct. There is nothing inherently harmful about small amounts of sugar, fats, or whatever. In fact your body needs some amount of these foodstuffs for optimum health. In moderation, sugar provides quick energy, fats provide essential fatty acids needed for proper metabolism, and so forth. It is the use to excess that causes problems--in moderation, they PROMOTE health and wellbeing.

Contrast to smoking---there is absolutely no positive value to one's body to ingesting any amount of tobacco. It's useful as a poultice for some wounds, but I have never heard of a positive health benefit related to ingested tobacco.

After watching my own beloved uncle gasp for air while dying a slow and painful death with a cigarette firmly clenched between his nicotine stained fingers and oxygen tubing in his nose, I think we should charge $100 a pack for them.

I figured the Faison-lovers (as in 'love is blind') would rise to the occasion.

Consider this, from the CDC factsheet on Cigarette Smoking-Related Mortality:

Cigarette smoking is the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Each year, more than 400,000 Americans die from cigarette smoking. In fact, one in every five deaths in the United States is smoking related. Every year, smoking kills more than 276,000 men and 142,000 women.

For Faison to compare tobacco to sugar is highly irresponsible. I would be embarrassed if he were my rep. But I guess that's because I take matters like public health seriously. That has never been high on the agenda for the right.

Another major health risk is second hand smoke. It's not just cancer either .
Whereas, if you decided to stuff yourself with sugar, the only one who pays is you. Granted, there are the public health costs of caring for you after your body shuts down, but all behaviors have that risk to some extent. With cigarettes there is no intrinsic value, there is a definite harm to innocent bystanders, and there is a major harm to the state because of long-term healthcare issues.

There are some excellent, (open minded) multi-opinion viewpoints on this thread (I like it!), and especially the solid reaction to some of the hyperbole and intimidating wording cast at those with divergent opinions.

A couple of my own observations/comments:

Ref: Robert Petersen's 6/24, 1:51 posting - good question; lets add to that list the State Lottery. And oh by the way, why the free pass to Joe Hackney who voted in favor of a lottery? Not a local word of criticism of his vote on this item, while E. Kinnard stuck by her position of opposing the lottery.

Regarding the sugar comparison - there are many scientists out there who would say that given current FDA guidelines and procedures, if sugar were to be introduced today, it might not be passed for consumer sales!

I don't favor cigarette smoking (how about we start by banning it in restaurants).

Regardless, I don't believe Bill's views should be presented in the negative way they have been on this thread - political cherry picking.

I re-looked at the headline on the teaser for this thread: and ask why start with "The Ever Embarrassing Bill Faison" as the headline. Now THAT is embarrassing. Rather presumptuous at the least, don't you think?

A question: Bill is embarrassing to who? The multi-county residents who voted him in over Barry Jacobs? Many of those here who are critical of him couldn't even vote in that election, yet we want to nail him by extracting a very few limited cuts from his views? Could it be the Barry Jacobs fans in the crowd are in attack mode?

Hackney's lottery support was locally criticized on OP.

Consider what the New England Journal of Medicine (a big ttobacco booster, I'm sure!) has to say about the "costs" of smoking:

"Conclusions: If people stopped smoking, there would be a savings in health care costs, but only in the short term. Eventually, smoking cessation would lead to increased health care costs."

The research methodology, premises and assumptions of the article Mr. Oliver cites have been broadly criticised by many public health officials and it is not considered by many to be a rigorous analysis of the issue because of those problems.

There are so many problems with what you just wrote. First, you did an incomplete quote.

If all smokers quit, health care costs would be lower at first, but after 15 years they would become higher than at present. In the long term, complete smoking cessation would produce a net increase in health care costs, but it could still be seen as economically favorable under reasonable assumptions of discount rate and evaluation period.

Second, there are, of course, those who find the authors work to be bull.
To the Editor: The conclusion by Barendregt et al. (Oct. 9 issue) that smoking cessation would eventually lead to increased health care costs is questionable because the authors underestimate differences in health care use between smokers and nonsmokers....Adding these conditions increases by more than 30 percent the estimate of short-term hospital days for diseases linked to smoking.

Smokers also have higher utilization rates and expenditures for coexisting diseases not related to smoking. ... Limiting the calculation of smoking-related costs to the diseases noted in the article omits substantial morbidity and health care utilization and severely underestimates the lifetime medical expenditures associated with smoking.

and much more.

I see, Bill, Faison is not only providing our farmers with more government payoff money, he is also saving the general public the need to pay higher health care costs as a result of living longer. Wow, what a public servant.

What is Faison talking about when he says, ‘At the time the campaign was going on, whether or not there would be a tobacco buyout was very much an issue.'?

The buy out is well established:

It was irresponsible for Faison to promise no increase in the cigarette tax. Even Virginia, which had the lowest cigarette tax for years (2.5 cents/ pack), easily passed legislation in 2004 that increased their tax to 30 cents per pack this year (still far below the national average of ~75 cents per pack).

Bill Faison is a medical malpractice attorney who
has spent his careeer representing plaintiffs. He
sues doctors and hospitals that have
made mistakes and as a consequence have injured
their patients. He obviously understands the
health risks and health costs of cigarettes. I don't know
if he has ever been involved with a lawsuit against a
tobacco company, but it wouldn't surprise me.....his
firm, Faison and Gillespie, is quite large and well-known.

Yes there are tobacco farmers in his district, but their
number is dwarfed by the number of people in his
district who smoke and whose health (and all our costs)
would benefit from quitting. Furthermore, since the tobacco tax is levied at the point of sale, not at the farm,
the impact of a 35 cent per pack tax on cigarettes would have a trivial effect on local tobacco farmers.
North Carolina is a tiny marketplace for cigarettes
in the context of the U.S. and the still heavy-smoking European and Asian countries.

Okay, If the topic of this thread is the cigarette tax, then I disagree with Bill Faison. I think we should tax the heck out of cigarettes, but I also think we should still have a gas guzzler tax.

I'm sorry, Anita, there is no amount of trans fat that can be healthily consumed, no matter what the Frito Lay FDA food pyramid says ( they are the corporate sponsors, right?) So if we tax to discourage consumption and fund health care, then there should be some sort of processed food tax on those items which are unquestionably unhealthy( twinkies come to mind).

But, if the topic of this thread is who is an embarrassment to our community, the guy who thinks the biggest probblem in Carrboro is the sidewalks comes to mind.

The conversation seems to be relatively back on track, so I don't want to divert it with any more name-calling (including my own). I will offer this simple explanation. This is a website about "progressive perspectives." All are welcome, but I wonder about the motivations of folks who participate so much in the conversation while not sharing the general political goals of this online community. The intent seems to be disrupt, or at least does not seem to share the site's stated values.

If you don't like how we do OP, why are you still here? Why not start your own blog?

Note: Unless I post as The Editor, I am speaking as and for myself only.

Katrina, you are right about the engineered trans fats. I was referring to naturally occurring fats, not those engineered by food companies. There is some evidence that naturally occurring trans fatty acids behave differently in the body than those engineered through the hydrogenation process, (I owe it to my alma mater to clarify that comment, my apologies for being off topic).

I agree with Joe. Raising NC's cigarette tax will not spell the doom for NC tobacco farmers, and it is muddying the waters to pose it in those terms.

I explained this to you before, Ruby:

"But Ruby, you are always pleading that other voices need to be heard! I think that you and others on the hard left are living in a vacuum of ideas where your bad plans are never challenged and when they are, you have nothing left except name-calling and demonization."

So Ruby, is this meant to be a "preaching to the choir" blog ? Is there no room for diverse Liberal voices?

I consider myself to be a liberal, but I know there are other liberals who don't share all of my views. That's okay with my. I'm a big tent liberal.

I also think it's important to listen to thoughtful conservative voices. Not the Rush Limbaughs, but certainly the more traditional Soutern Democrat. Listening is the first step in creating a compromise everybody can live with.

BTW, wouldn't a tax increase on cigarettes be a regressive tax since poor people smoke more than others? I thought "progressives" were against regressive taxes?

Katrina, there's a new name for traditional Southern Democrats--they're called "Republicans".

Ruby, I know I'm a bit confused. Are you looking for some very narrow slice of political thought here? What is the allowable spectrum? Maybe there is a list of issue acid tests that needs to be provided. I wonder if you consider me a troll. This is off topic, I know, but if you welcome people to post, then blast them when they do, it's a bit disconcerting. I know I don't want to be where I'm not welcome.

No. Bill, actually not. The south was reliably Democratic largely because of the New Deal, which of course is very Democratic.

I think that Democrats will only find their voice when they get back to their New Deal roots. JMO, and I'll stop now, since this is way off topic.

I think that one of the problems throughout the body politic is that folks use labels as if they had some precise and agreed upon meaning. Rep. Faison is a Dem, but what does it mean? Yesterday, the media was full of comments about "those liberal judges" on the Supreme Court who are taking away more individual rights. Interesting that when you look at the five who formed the majority, one was appointed by Ford, one by Reagan, one by Bush, and two by Clinton. Are they all really liberals? And then locally, we have Council members who say they are environmentalists, yet they pass an ordinance that causes people to use engines during the very worst time of day. Environmentalists?

So what do all of the labels really mean, especially on a website about the “progressive perspectives?” Is it a case of not being able to define it, but knowing it when you read it?


Election results don't seem to support your thesis.

How many southern states did Kerry carry in 2004? None.
How many southern states did Gore carry in 2000? None.
How many Democrat Senators won seats in the south in 2004? None.
How many Democrat Senators won seats in the south in 2002? One: Landrieu in LA.
How many Democrat Senators won seats in the south in 2000?
3: Bill Nelson in FL, Robert Byrd in WV and Zell Miller in GA.

Are Robert Byrd and Zell Miller the sort of traditional Southern Democrats you were thinking of?

I'm still not saying we shouldn't have a hefty cigarette tax, but I do think there are consequences for farmers. Anyone ever wondered what those tobacco farmers are going to do now?
"From a job standpoint, about one out of every 11 workers in North Carolina depends on tobacco for their livelihood. Tobacco directly and indirectly employs more than 280,000 North Carolinians. Manufacturing adds about $11 billion to the gross state product - more than any other industry.

For the foreseeable future, tobacco will remain one of North Carolina's most profitable crops and a substantial contributor to the value of farm production. Increased pressure on tobacco will continue to prompt Tar Heel farmers to diversify and seek alternative crops. "
"Cigarette manufacturers and importers will fund the buyout based on their share of the U.S. cigarette market."

Today's Daily Tarheel has an article stating that Faison is running for Governor in 2008. He does all but admit that he is beginning to raise money for the race. So, I guess siding with Republicans on issue after issue is his way of "reaching out" to the minority of voters in North Carolina that vote for Republicans at the state-level.

If we want to go off topic and talk about national politics in the south, then we should focus on the House races in 2006. North Carolina is trending bluer and bluer and the stench of Neocon corruption, mistruths, and downright ugliness (see Karl Rove's comments yesterday) are sure to have an impact on our House representation. We are currently 6-7 Democratic and several Republicans face tough elections. Many Progressives, myself included, see 2006 as the year that North Carolina goes Blue for the near future.
This, in turn, gives us a good opportunity in 2008 to be THE major swing state at the Presidential level.

Faison is just another mediocre gasbag along the lines of Kerry who supports the Iraq war failure, Clinton who supported corporate domination of trade, Easley who's against a death penalty moratorium, etc. It's not surprising, but just another reminder that the Democratic Party is a failed institution that should be put out of its misery like an old crippled horse. It's existence only creates the illusion that there is some sort of opposition party and thus sucks up energy like a political black hole.

Mmmmh...I don't know whether some folks have just been told they're now no longer allowed in the "Club House," or perhaps the kids with the ball on the playground are saying it's "their ball" and some are not welcome to play.

Wasn't this the blog, described as "progressive perspectives on Orange County, NC" in the banner heading? Just reviewed the posted guidelines; maybe these should be made more specific so that certain viewpoints can be self-censored or shut out.

I'm confused as I, like many, have enjoyed the banter and dialogue, not sanitized. The variety of viewpoints and discussion seem important to me. Remember, there are many people with VARYING VIEWPOINTS who simply read this blog out of interest, who for their own reasons are not comfortable posting.

When I first got to this site some months ago I saw the tagline of progressive prospectives and assumed it was a "Progressive Blog". Quickly, I realized that many on this board appeared to be more conservative. The discussions were mostly local and mostly polite, with honest differences in opinion discussed. It wasn't until this thread on state and even national politics started that I realized there was a strong Progressive group and a strong "conservative" group.

I think this says something about national politics today and how successful one party has been in polarizing the debates. According to them we are supposed to dislike each other, even hate each other, and we certainly aren't supposed to carry on a polite debate. We're just supposed to spit talking points back and forth. Well, it seems to have worked, and I am as guilty as most. Though, in fact, there was a time of my life when I was registered withour party affiliation and MIGHT have voted for Republican candidates. No more.

I hope that when we discuss local issues we can retain a civil discourse, even if we have been brainwashed at the state and national level.

Ruby, you should be flattered that this website has become the "place du jour" for so many people in Orange County. What this shows you is that there is a tremendous desire for thinking people of many different persuasions in our community to come together in a forum and talk to each other.

In the end, it's your website, and I support whatever you decide to make of it. However, I would encourage you to edit what you need to in order to make sure that trolls or cantakarous people don't take over while still giving people with diverse viewpoints a place to talk to each other.

I am not sure that I would fit into your "young progressive" identified target audience, but I can tell you that I have learned a lot on this website that has helped me in my local decision making. I have changed my mind on a few issues based on the discussions posted on this website, and I have also solidified some previous beliefs. Thank you for this forum. I know there are some people who just try to be difficult, but for many of us, this is a great place to gather information.

Finally! Someone (Mark M.) has put into words what I've had in my mind about the Dem party! Well done!

With regards to this subject I think the bottom line is this...The State needs more revenue, and tobacco is THE place to get it. They have had an extremely low tax ride for way too long. It's a disgusting and deadly habit for those who partake and for those who are subjected to its second handedness. (And I am an ex smoker btw).

I am totally offended by any elected official who doesn't insist on a moderate to extreme tobacco increase. You want to gotta pay...

Hear, hear, Anita!

Just a thought. I mentioned this idea in an email some time ago to a state house member and was wondering what everyone else's take would be. Tobacco farmers in North Carolina provide leaves for the large corporate cigarette/snuff/etc makers. NC itself probably only buys 1% of total product (if the leaf is used for worldwide production). Raising our taxes would have NO effect on the overall production because we would be slightly decreasing that 1%.
But, 45 or so other states ARE charging higher tax rates, collecting money, and decreasing the need for leaf here in NC. So, what about this as an alternative. We increase our tobacco tax to the highest in the nation, which will certainly decrease the sales, but again, will only impact tobacco farmers slightly. ALL of those taxes are placed into a fund to reestablish NC farming. I would expect that one of the few types of family farms that are experiencing growth in the United States are sustainable or organic farms. But, making that transition alone takes six years.
The tax money could be used by any family farm to switch to new crops, convert to organic or sustainable agriculture, for current organic farms to expand, even for the transition to wineries, which have gotten so much good press lately.
So, sure we are increasing taxes on cigarettes but ALL of the proceeds go into making NC a hub of family farming.

Good thinking Robert. I'm glad to hear someone else has some compassion for farmers.

Robert, my take is that the money would never be used the way you intend it to be.

Look at what happens to the tobacco settlement Health and Wellness Trust Fund money. Ideally, the money is to be used to ‘invest in programs and partnerships to address access, prevention, education and research that help all North Carolinians achieve better health.'

In reality, much of this settlement payment money has been used to help the state's budget crisis. In 2002, the GA diverted $30 million from the HWTF. In 2003, they diverted 40 million. In both 2004 and 2005, $25 million was diverted. The GA is also funding construction of university facilities with HWTF monies.

For what it's worth, in FY2005, NC spent only 35.22% of the CDC recommended minimum spending on tobacco prevention programs.



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