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Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2006 09:03 am

Mass killers strike again

Here’s an axis of evil Congress loves to coddle

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If terrorists and drug pushers had lobbyists and made campaign contributions, Washington probably would coddle them.

For an example of Washington coddling an “axis of evil,” look no further than R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and the other corporate members of the global tobacco cartel. For decades these greedheads have intentionally addicted millions of people for profit, targeting our kids with their murderous products and killing some 438,000 American every single year. Yet they’re allowed to keep hooking kids and keep killing.

The tobacco giants are beyond redemption. Even after being publicly exposed and fined billions of dollars, they persist in attacking us. A new study finds that these profiteers have secretly been escalating the addictive firepower of their little weapons of mass destruction. Since 1998, they’ve increased the amount of nicotine delivered through their cigarettes by an average of 10 percent.

Of 116 brands tested, 92 had jacked-up levels of nicotine. Most damning, some of the biggest increases came in brands that are pitched to young people. Marlboro, for example — the choice of two-thirds of high-school smokers — had a 12 percent jump in nicotine. Also, in a deceptive twist, 73 brands labeled “light” or “ultralight” ranked among the highest in nicotine content.

This is not coincidence; it’s a conscious corporate choice. As a federal judge found in a recent landmark case, tobacco companies do extensive research on how to hook people, and they “have designed their cigarettes to precisely control nicotine delivery levels and provide doses of nicotine sufficient to create and sustain addiction.”

If they were drug kingpins or terrorists, tobacco executives would be in deep, dark jail cells — but, thanks to their lobbyists and political money, these killer corporations get away without even having their products regulated.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.

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