Massachusetts Takes A Swipe at Tobacco and Gun Lobbies

Article excerpt

Massachusetts has taken on two of the nation's largest lobbies - tobacco and guns - and the state appears to be a formidable foe.

The state plans to implement the toughest cigarette regulation in the nation next year, requiring tobacco companies to subject cigarettes to a new level of testing and make public all ingredients used in them.

At the same time, the attorney general is proposing the country's strictest handgun-safety rules, which would mandate that all firearms sold in Massachusetts meet quality standards and include state-of-the-art safety features. In heated opposition to these proposals, the top four cigarette-makers have sued the state. They claim the ingredient-disclosure requirement forces them to reveal trade secrets, which are protected under federal commerce laws. Meanwhile, officials at Smith & Wesson, a gun manufacturer that employs 900 people in Springfield, Mass., have threatened to move the plant out of state if the handgun laws are put in place. If lawmakers' efforts prevail, they will pave the way for similar measures in states across the country. The gun restrictions would be the first to use the approach of regulating firearm safety under consumer-protection laws rather than by banning certain types of guns. In the case of the cigarette-disclosure law, a court decision in Massachusetts's favor could open the door for other states to regulate tobacco - and would represent a setback for tobacco companies that for decades have been insulated from state-by-state regulation. But the battles between the state and the industries have been bruising, and observers say the policies will not succeed unless a balance is struck between public health and economic well-being. "The industries' strategy is to play upon people's fears about economic insecurity," says Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger. "My strategy is to expose these threats for what they are. I've got to convince the public that the benefits of safety will outweigh the alleged negatives." Political analysts say that if any state can rein in the powerful tobacco and gun industries, it is Massachusetts. …

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