Tobacco racketeers

To the editor:

According to Monday, Aug. 12’s national news headline, reputed Boston mob boss James “Whitey” Bulgar was found guilty of racketeering. He will spend the rest of his life in prison for crimes that include extortion, money laundering, drug dealing and weapons possession. He is responsible and accountable for the death of 11 people.

When I think of racketeers, I think of organized crime, thugs and the mobsters of the last century. Racketeering is the act of operating an illegal business or scheme (a racket) in order to make a profit, perpetrated by a structured group.

Did you know that the U.S. tobacco industry was found guilty of racketeering in 2006 by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler? This legitimate industry was charged with violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act). Judge Kessler said, “Over the course of more than 50 years, defendants lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public, including smokers and the young people they avidly sought as ‘replacement’ smokers about the devastating health effects of smoking and environmental tobacco smoke.”

I wonder why, seven years later, the tobacco industry representatives are not in prison welcoming Whitey Bulgar to a life sentence. The emotional and financial burden on individuals, families, communities, and state and municipal budgets associated with tobacco is tremendous. Seventy New Yorkers die every day due to tobacco-related illness (source: state Department of Health). For every person who dies, two people replace them as daily smokers. (2012 U.S. surgeon general’s report). Ninety percent of new smokers are under the age of 18 (American Cancer Society). And there is an industry that continues to promote a product that, if used as intended, kills one out of three of its users with flashy marketing campaigns and price discounts. Who is holding the tobacco industry accountable for the 1,200 Americans who die daily of tobacco-related illnesses? (sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health) The focus should not be placed on the victim of the industry, the smoker, but on the industry that has already been found to be guilty of corruption. Who sits in prison for today’s victims?

I am outraged by the tobacco industry. I also question when communities will fight back to protect future smokers from the predatory marketing practices of the tobacco industry. Tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in America. I have seen enough.

Dana Isabella