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Darts & laurels: The price of smoking

Dart to the continued hold cigarette smoking has on people who often can least afford it, including Medicaid recipients. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control found that about 36 percent of North Carolina’s Medicaid recipients smoke, on par with most surrounding states. (Tennessee is higher, however, with 47 percent of adults on Medicaid smoking.) Around the world, tobacco and poverty are linked in a vicious circle, with tobacco burning up precious funds, yet remaining most popular among the poor. This addiction is a threat not only to the smokers’ health, but also to that of the nonsmokers around them, especially children exposed to second-hand smoke. In the United States, fortunately, Medicaid will help pay for smoking cessation treatments such as Chantix, Nicorette and others — which are far less expensive than paying for the problems that result from smoking. Medicaid’s bill for treating smoking-related diseases is projected to be $75 billion this year.

Laurels to the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act — WARN — which requires that employees who are part of a mass layoff or plant closing receive at least 60 days’ notice. This gives the workers and their families time to make the transition by seeking new jobs or enrolling in training programs. In the case of Freightliner’s recent layoff, the Cleveland plant announced Jan. 4 that 936 workers would lose their jobs at the end of the week, but they will continue to be paid through early March. Congress passed the federal WARN Act in 1988, when Ronald Reagan was president, but Reagan was not a fan. Reagan looked upon WARN as government intrusion. A veto-proof Democratic majority passed the measure, it became law without the president’s signature.

Dart to the unintended consequences of loosening state regulations to allow more charter schools. Funded by taxpayers, charter schools were supposed to be education reform incubators, schools freed from certain state regulations so they would have the flexibility to try new education strategies. Best practices were to be passed on to public schools so everyone could improve. Instead, charter schools appear to be a new route to re-segregation and elitism. A Duke University study found little integration within charter schools; overall, their population is wealthier and whiter than regular public schools. At Lt. Gov. Dan Forest’s suggestion, an annual report on the state’s charter schools has been sent back to rewrite for reporting these facts; Forest said it was “too negative.” It will be interesting to see the second version.

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