Tobacco Workers Protest Proposed Tobacco Tax Increase
WASHINGTON (AP) _ About 16,000 tobacco industry workers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on Wednesday to protest a Clinton administration proposal to raise the cigarette tax to help pay for health reform.
After marching from the White House to the Capitol, the protesters crowded into federal office buildings to make personal appeals to individual members of Congress.
″We may need to do something about health care, but we don’t need to do it on the backs of the people who have grown tobacco all their lives,″ Sen. Lauch Faircloth, R-N.C., told the crowd.
Tobacco executives, workers, growers and suppliers say if Clinton’s proposal to raise the cigarette tax 75 cents a pack is approved, the higher tax will depress sales, costing the industry as many as 275,000 jobs. Among the hardest hit would be growers, who would lose 18,000 jobs and $103 million in profits, they said.
The southern states will be hit 3.5 times harder than the rest of the nation, according to the Tobacco Action Coalition, which organized the protest.
Clinton has proposed raising the federal excise tax on cigarettes from 24 cents to 99 cents a pack to help finance his health care reform plan. The money raised by the tax increase would give smokers an opportunity to pay their fair share of health care costs, the administration has said.
″The message is jobs,″ Faircloth told the protesters before the march began. ″I sympathize with you, I understand and I’m with you.″
Most of the protesters were workers from the nation’s two largest cigarette makers, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Philip Morris in Richmond, Va. But others also traveled to Washington by bus from as far away as Kentucky, South Carolina and Georgia.
Workers in downtown Washington office buildings peeked out of windows as the crowd walked by, yelling ″Save Our Jobs 3/8″ and ″We’ve had enough 3/8″ and singing ″The Star-Spangled Banner.″
Two hours later, as the crowd shivered outside the Capitol in 34-degree weather, Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., took a swipe at both Clinton and the proposed tax increase.
″Don’t blame me. I voted for Bush,″ Helms said.
The demonstrators broke up into groups of four or five to visit lawmakers and their aides and hand over petitions signed by thousands of people.
″It’s not fair to tax one industry to pay for health care that benefits everybody,″ Clay Lentz of Winston-Salem, N.C., told an aide to Rep. Charles Wilson, D-Texas, who has not announced an position on the tax. ″Let’s spread the expense out among all the workers.″