Hunter wants troops to get their smokes
Congressman seeks exemption in new tobacco mailing law
Letters, cookies, chocolate and other goodies are staples of care packages sent to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. For some, so is a carton of smokes or a few cans of chewing tobacco.
By MARK WALKER - email@example.com | Posted: August 3, 2010 8:12 pm
But a recently adopted postal regulation limits the mailing of tobacco products to 10 ounces or less, a restriction that has made it difficult for family members to send the items to their loved ones in combat zones.
So Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, has introduced a bill that would provide an exemption to the regulation.
A carton of cigarettes weighs more than 20 ounces and a single can of chew weighs about 1.2 ounces.
Hunter's bill, introduced Friday, seeks an exemption to the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act or PACT Act recently passed by Congress to prevent cigarette smuggling by mail to avoid taxes. The act exempts tobacco mailings between individuals for noncommercial use, but each package must weigh less than 10 ounces.
"Oftentimes, care packages include cigarette cartons and other tobacco products that contribute to an overall weight of more than 10 ounces, particularly when combined with other items such as food and clothing," said Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper.
Tobacco products are readily available to troops at large bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not at the smaller, more remote forward operating bases, he said.
"This legislation is more about those troops stationed at combat outposts who don't have the luxury of stepping off the battlefield to buy a pack of cigarettes," Kasper said.
Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and serves on the House Armed Services Committee, was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
His legislation has the backing of the group Marine Parents, which was established in 2003 by Tracy Della Vecchia when her son was serving in the Marine Corps. Della Vecchia said Tuesday that Hunter's legislation was needed.
"Preventing illegal tobacco marketing is not what we're doing when a mom gets a note from her son saying he has night watch and needs some cigarettes or a can of Skoal," she said. "The regulations are just screwy."
Della Vecchia's group has about 130,000 members, many of whom have expressed frustration since the mailing restriction went into effect earlier this year, she said. Some are not telling the U.S. Postal Service that their package contains tobacco, she said.
"We have parents who say, 'My son is overseas getting his butt shot at and I am going to send him cigarettes if he asks for them,'" she said. "If they don't, the troops could wind up trying to buy Afghan cigarettes, which are risky and could be adulterated."
Della Vecchia said Hunter's bill would fix another problem with the PACT Act, which requires that packages containing tobacco headed to overseas military bases be sent only by Express Military Mail.
"But there is no such service in Afghanistan," she said. Della Vecchia has written extensively about the legislation on her group's website, http://www.marineparents.com/.
Kasper stressed the bill, which has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, is not intended to promote the sale or use of tobacco. Della Vecchia said her group also doesn't promote tobacco use.
A spokesman for the American Cancer Society in Washington said that while the organization has no position on Hunter's bill, it believes any form of tobacco use is unhealthy.
"The American Cancer Society strongly discourages tobacco use, which has been proven to cause cancer and kills more than 440,000 people in America and 5.4 million people worldwide each year," said the spokesman, Steve Weiss.
Call staff writer Mark Walker at 760-740-3529.