October 17, 2006

Are Fireworks headed down the same path as Cigarettes?

I have often said, half joking, that Lakewood civic clubs could raise money by selling cigarettes. I get looks like I just said they should sell crack cocaine for team uniforms. But before you laugh, think about how selling fireworks really is not much different than selling cigarettes.

Both cigarettes and fireworks are costly and lucrative for sellers due to their “contraband” like appeal. Both cigarettes and fireworks must be sold by adults to adults and the sales are regulated by federal state and local laws. But does that make either safer for the user or bystanders? No.

Look at the marketing campaigns of cigarettes and fireworks. When you think of cigarettes what do you think of first? Car racing sponsorship and other selected athletic endeavors. The tobacco companies pour millions into NASCAR. And everyone loves NASCAR right? So how could that tobacco money be a bad thing? When you tell Nascar fans of smoking bans how do you think they feel? How will they ever replace tobacco funding? Yes tobacco is bad they say but we are addicted to the money.

Sound familiar? It should as it is the same approach being used by the fireworks companies. They have convinced all the civic clubs that they will never be able to replace fireworks as a fund raising device. And out of either laziness or lack for ingenuity the clubs have bought into this argument and are now doing the firework companies bidding. The entire argument that the clubs have put forth in this election is the money and safety takes a back seat. The fireworks safety is addressed elsewhere on this site. As far as the money is concerned, most of it is going to the fireworks distributor, who has very low overhead. They have them manufactured for pennies on the dollar in China and the entire distribution network is the local clubs. No employees. No pensions. No health benefits. No unions. No minimum wage.

Over the past 20 years a long campaign has been waged against tobacco use and the tobacco companies for misleading consumers that cigarettes were safe. Over the years this campaign has paid off. Smoking and its related costs have been reduced. Non smokers are especially happy in California as smoking has been eliminated in almost all areas. People under 30 cannot even imagine having to sit near smokers all day in an office anymore. California has led the way on these bans and now the rest of the country and the world is following.

Just like with cigarettes, California needs to lead the way on banning fireworks as well, one city at a time. The vast majority of California cities and counties ban the use of all fireworks.

In addition to banning cigarettes (or all fireworks) outright, California and other states over the past few years have dramatically increased the taxes on cigarettes and has used this money for educational campaigns and to subsidize health costs. Proposition 86 also on the ballot this November seeks to increase those taxes even more, up to $2.50 a pack to fund healthcare. Why not do the same for fireworks? I see no effort by the fireworks companies or the clubs benefiting from a portion of the sales offering to assist the non firework using taxpayers with the increased cost of law enforcement on July 4th the or the cost of fires, injuries, pollution and educational efforts.

So the choice is clear. Either ban fireworks or make them pay their fair share trough city taxes and fees. No more free lunch for fireworks peddlers. Cigarettes pay their share of their burden. Time for fireworks to do the same.

Vote YES on Measure “D”

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