More than 50 students had the chance to voice their opinion on tobacco issues Tuesday night at the “Debate on Big Tobacco,” co-sponsored by GW’s College Republicans and College Democrats.
The two-part program, which was held in a Funger Hall lecture room, was a moderated debate between three representatives from each organization followed by a question and answer session.
“Tobacco is the only product, that when used correctly, can kill you,” CD representative Ankuar Doshi.
Doshi said Democrats are fed up with the deceptive practices of big tobacco companies and the Republican party.
CD representatives made repeated claims that tobacco advertising campaigns, such as those that feature “Joe Camel,” target young consumers and create a lucrative market out of illegal underage smoking.
Molly O’Sullivan, CR co-chair for political affairs, disputed that claim by citing international studies that prove advertising cigarettes is not linked with smoking.
“I agree that cigarettes may be dirty, nasty and addictive, but as long as the American government says they’re legal, then the government has no right to impede on the companies’ right to advertise,” freshman Jason Winn said.
Winn said government regulation of tobacco advertising might violate the First Amendment.
“Even the First Amendment has its boundaries,” Doshi said.
Doshi said the government officials have a right to regulate ads when the government has a vested interest.
The CR representatives warned that regulating tobacco now might lead to restrictions on other liberties in the future.
The CR panel said individuals have an inherent right to choose what is right for themselves.
More than 90 percent of smokers started before they were age 18, said Jenn Holtz, a sophomore representative for the CDs. Holtz, who has worked with anti-tobacco programs for several years, recently interned for the National Center for Tobacco Free Kids. She said 3,000 underage Americans take up smoking every day.
The issue of taxation of tobacco also sparked heavy debate between the panels.
Jason Osborn, a freshman representative for the CRs, said 47 percent of tobacco taxes are paid by Americans who earn less than $30,000 per year, making the tax regressive. A regressive tax is one in which the rate of taxation increases with a decrease in income. Osborn also claimed tobacco taxes “hamper social welfare programs” and “have little effect on whether youth will smoke.”