Originally created 02/08/98

Lawmakers considering banning cigarette machines



ATLANTA -- State lawmakers aren't waiting to see if Georgia prevails in its lawsuit against the tobacco industry: they want cigarettes out of the hands of children now.

However, legislation to outlaw the sale of cigarettes in vending machines could bring some highly unpopular consequences.

It also would keep vending machines from dispensing the lottery tickets that fund HOPE college scholarships and pre-kindergarten classes.

"The government has said that some products should not be accessible to minors. We, as a Legislature, said you can't gamble in this state through the lottery unless you are 18," said Rep. Tom Bordeaux, D-Savannah, the measure's sponsor and a long-time assistant floor leader for Gov. Zell Miller.

"A vending machine has no way of knowing your age, has no way of checking your age, of verifying that you are over 18."

But Georgia Lottery President Rebecca Paul said the vending machine ban could hurt sales while trying to address a problem that may not even exist.

"We have not seen any indication of a major problem with underage players of the lottery," Ms. Paul said. "It's not a product that appeals to youth. If they have an extra dollar, a lottery ticket is not what they are going to buy."

The push for anti-smoking legislation, a hot topic in the early 1990s, has died out in recent years because big tobacco battles are going on in courthouses around the country.

More than 40 states have sued the tobacco industry, with Georgia finally joining the pack last August, seeking $2.78 billion in Medicaid reimbursements for smoking-related illnesses.

Smokers in the General Assembly have been nudged out of legislative chambers, although several lawmakers, including House Speaker Tom Murphy, D-Bremen, can usually be seen sucking on unlit cigars.

Mr. Bordeaux's legislation raises questions

about the state's willingness to fully enforce its laws protecting minors.

In Georgia, it's illegal to sell cigarettes to anyone under the age of 18.

So Mr. Bordeaux hit upon the idea of outlawing the sale of age-sensitive products in vending machines.

He didn't even know until recently that lottery tickets could be purchased from vending machines.

Mr. Bordeaux argues he is merely trying to plug a loophole in Georgia law.

"It says, we as a government are going to take care of children, and we're going to protect them from gambling, or we're going to protect them from cigarettes, or we're going to protect them from whatever else might be sold," he said. "But yet we wink our eye and say, `you can buy it from a vending machine.'

"Now the lottery is squealing like a stuck pig because they say it will hurt their sales. Well, how hypocritical can you get?

"The government has said you can't gamble if you are under a certain age. The government has said these lottery dollars are going for pre-kindergarten and HOPE scholarships. This money is going to help our children. Yet, we wink our eye and say, `it's OK."'

Ms. Paul said the lottery's 500 vending machines are primarily located in grocery stores.

"I don't know if grocery stores would continue to sell (lottery tickets) if we don't have vending machines," she said. "It obviously would have an impact on sales."

Ms. Paul noted the lottery vending machines are supposed to be within sight of store clerks.

Mr. Bordeaux says that's not good enough.

"I can't get a clerk's attention in a convenience store sometimes when I'm standing there waving a $20 bill," he said.

Mr. Bordeaux will likely be forced to exclude the lottery from the bill to get it out of the House Industry Committee.

House Industry Chairman Newt Hudson, D-Rochelle, a former tobacco farmer, said Mr. Bordeaux's measure also could outlaw the sale of other products in vending machines, such as condoms.

"When you leave it open to everything you sell in some type of machine, it's too broad," he said. "I think he's after the cigarette machines, and if he's after the cigarette machines, I would have no problem with it.

"He started off after tobacco, and I'll help him with the tobacco part of it."

Despite the popularity of anti-smoking legislation around the country, some Georgia lawmakers are wary of Mr. Bordeaux's bill.

"Don't we have enough laws?" asked Sen. Peg Blitch, D-Homerville, seconds after stuffing out her cigarette.

Even Mr. Hudson, who promised to help Mr. Bordeaux, added, "What we're fast fixin' to do is destroy the growing and processing of tobacco in this country.

"What we're going to do is stop the production in the United States. I see production going to Rhodesia, Brazil, and manufacturing to Southeast Asia, and then (cigarettes) being shipped back here. Why would we want to do that?"