As an owner of an affectionate and disciplined Staffordshire Terrier (known in some circles as a pit bull) I can no longer watch from the sidelines as the breed, and by extension its owners, is smeared and threatened with expulsion from the community and even the state. Already I notice my neighbors behave differently toward me when I walk my pet on a short, strong leash. Once, they stopped to pet him, and now they all but cross the street. Suddenly I am a second-class citizen, and my dog is a target. My crime is to live in an urban environment where humans are far more threatening than pets, and usually better armed. Alderman Ambrose won't need to pass legislation; he has already inflamed the community against us. How long will it be before a stranger points a handgun at me, just because I own a breed that has received hysterical and prejudicial press?
Any pet that is starved, abused, neglected, improperly trained, or trained to antisocial behavior is a potential threat to the community. But it is a mistake to generalize so foolishly about a breed or an owner, and hysterical to encourage citizens and neighbors to take up arms. Will they wait until minor children are behind closed doors, or just blast away in front of them? What about neighbors who simply don't like someone? How convenient to murder their pets. Maybe the bodies could be displayed, nailed to doors, draped across the front porch, a primeval warning to anyone who offends a neighbor with a loud stereo, rude children, or an unkempt yard?
The obvious and rational solution is to penalize irresponsible owners. Every horrible incident recorded in the Quad-City Times involves an animal on the loose, which is already a violation of city ordinance, and some of the most heinous events reflect outstandingly irresponsible conduct by owners. Yet Alderman Ambrose vows to banish my loyal companion and ostracize me, simply because a certain type of owner has misunderstood the historical purpose and many pleasures of living with domesticated animals.
Eric J. Mart
A Clear and Honest View of Sexuality
In schools throughout the nation, young people are getting an incomplete education. In spite of voluminous evidence supporting the efficacy of age-appropriate comprehensive sexual education, a trend restricting full access to it is underway. More and more students are being subjected to "abstinence only" curricula in place of an informative and truthful approach to sexuality education.
"Abstinence only" programs are a federally funded phenomenon that can now be found in schools across the nation. This misguided and dangerous approach to sexuality education demands that young people refrain from any sexual activity until marriage and neglects to mention contraception other than to emphasize failure rates.
These programs put young people at risk for both sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. They fail to deal with the reality of human sexuality and irresponsibly impose a narrowly defined morality on teens rather than providing them with the information needed to make healthy decisions based on individual values and needs. Additionally, there is no research-based evidence to prove the efficacy of abstinence-only education.
Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa and a host of other pregnancy-prevention providers support abstinence-based sexuality-education programs that incorporate parental involvement. This approach recognizes abstinence as the only fail-safe way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections and encourages adolescents to forgo sex until they are ready for a mature relationship. In the tradition of true education, we present the entire concept of human sexuality, offering medically accurate, age-appropriate information on contraception, human reproduction, and safer sex.
Young people deserve no less than a clear and honest view of human sexuality unclouded by moral judgment or political agenda. During the national observance of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, it's crucial to recognize that truthful and respectful education is fundamental to successful adolescent pregnancy prevention. Scare tactics, inaccuracies, and half-truths will only serve to perpetuate ignorance and cause teen-pregnancy rates to skyrocket.
Lori A. Mariner
Regional Educator & Outreach Coordinator, Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa
A Rational Tobacco Tax Policy for Iowa
Once again state finances are in trouble. And once again the tendency is to force tobacco users, in the form of excise taxes, to help balance the budget. To the casual observer this appears to be a no-brainer. Lawmakers in Des Moines face only minimal constituent pressure to oppose new taxes, because only 23 percent of Iowa residents smoke and only 3 percent use smokeless tobacco. Even so, in fiscal year 2003, smokers generate $63 million in revenue for Iowa from the indirect "tax" disguised as the national master tobacco settlement agreement, and $93 million more from state excise taxes. That's over $150 million! Now lawmakers want more, and they will rely on the usual public-health arguments from the usual anti-tobacco crusaders to justify even higher taxes. But public health is exactly why lawmakers should reduce the tax on smokeless tobacco products to the lowest possible rate.
Excise taxes on tobacco products may be inevitable, but they don't have to be illogical. A common sense approach is to tax tobacco products according to risk. Cigarettes, widely acknowledged as the most dangerous products, are already taxed at high levels by most states, ostensibly to discourage consumption. But the health impact of smokeless tobacco use is much, much lower; scientific and medical research has confirmed that smokeless tobacco use carries only about 2 percent of the risk of smoking. A rational tobacco tax policy would set taxes on smokeless products at 2 percent of those of cigarettes. In Iowa the excise tax on a package of smokeless tobacco is currently 59 cents; that's 60 percent higher than the tax on cigarettes. What lawmakers should do is eliminate the tax on smokeless, based on the current cigarette excise tax of 36 cents. Instead, various pending bills in the legislature (Senate File 144, House Files 283, 284, 539) would increase the tax on cigarettes by almost fourfold to $1.36, and to the same level on smokeless products. It's a simple grab for additional cash.
Taxing tobacco products according to well-established risks will serve the public-health goal of reducing the death toll from cigarette smoking. Economic research shows that a large price differential encourages cigarette smokers to switch to smokeless tobacco. A growing number of public-health experts, including the prestigious Royal College of Physicians in Britain, recognizes that smokeless tobacco might be an acceptable substitute for smokers who have been unable or unwilling to quit. They point to evidence from Sweden where, over the past century, men have smoked less and used more smokeless tobacco than in any other Western country. The result: Swedish men have the lowest rates of lung cancer - indeed, of all smoking-related deaths - in the developed world.
How have the Swedes achieved this record-setting reduction in smoking? First, placing tobacco discreetly inside the mouth is far safer than setting it on fire and inhaling the smoke, and the Swedes know it. In contrast, American smokers have been misled into thinking that smokeless tobacco is just as dangerous as smoking. It gets even worse. Prohibitionists in control of the American anti-tobacco movement actively oppose telling adult smokers about alternative tobacco products that are far safer. Second, smokeless tobacco satisfies, because it delivers nicotine almost as efficiently as a cigarette. Nicotine is addictive, but it causes none of the diseases associated with smoking. Third, the "spitting image" of smokeless tobacco is history, because modern products, available in Sweden and the U.S., can be used invisibly and as easily as breath mints. Finally, in Sweden the price of smokeless tobacco products is less than half that of cigarettes, the difference largely reflecting levels of taxation.
Switching from cigarettes to smokeless tobacco, called "harm reduction," has worked convincingly in Sweden, and it can work in Iowa, where 5,100 people die each year from smoking-related diseases. When it comes to taxes, there are no easy answers.
But a rational tobacco tax strategy based on risk is as compelling as it is innovative, because it allows lawmakers to meet their fiscal responsibility while fulfilling their moral obligation to help smokers who are desperate to quit.
Professor, Department of Pathology, School of Medicine, University of Alabama at Birmingham