W ashington, D.C., USA ... [ANN] The Seventh-day Adventist Church joined with 22

denominations and associations supporting the Interreligious Coalition on Smoking or Health in urging President Clinton to raise taxes on tobacco. This is the single most effective method of discouraging 3,000 young people each day from starting a drug habit that will prematurely kill 1,000 of them, according to a statement issued by the Coalition.

Roy Branson, a Seventh-day Adventist and co-chair of the Coalition, called the imposition of the tobacco tax "an urgent moral imperative."

"Churches have historically led the fight against slavery and racial discrimination and challenged America’s religious bodies to regard saving the lives of half a million people a year," said Branson.

In its statement, the Coalition commended President Clinton for encouraging the 105th Congress to raise taxes on tobacco. However, it expressed concern that the tobacco tax increase will be spread out over the next ten years, as was suggested by the President in the State of the Union Address. In the view of the Coalition, this dissipates the public health impact of raising the price of tobacco products.

Along with the representatives from other religious groups, the Interreligious Coalition urged the President to propose an immediate federal tax on tobacco of at least US$1.50 a pack, and to earmark the bulk of revenues from tobacco taxes for public health initiatives.

The White House welcomed religious leaders concerned with tobacco control to a meeting on January 21, culminating the first national conference on religion and tobacco control. The Interreligious Coalition participated, comprised of 22 denominations and associations such as the National Council of Churches, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the American Muslim Council, the National Association of Evangelicals (Washington Office), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Seventh-day Adventist Church, The General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, the US Catholic Conference, the YMCA and the YWCA.

Meeting in the United Methodist Building, denominational officials from all regions of the United States heard Philip Wogaman, pastor of the Foundry Methodist Church (regularly attended by President Clinton and the First Lady) denounce the cynicism of tobacco executives targeting children as young as 12. Brian Williams, legislative aide to Congressman Hanson (R-Utah), outlined the importance of religious communities communicating with members of congress.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church has been at the forefront of smoking cessation programs as part of its emphasis on health, dating from the Church’s beginnings in the 1860s. [Wendi Shull]