- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


May 12

The Kingsport Times News on penalties for shoplifting in Tennessee:

Ever notice someone shoplifting? Did you turn them in? You should have, because shoplifters take an estimated $500 a year out of your pocket.

In Tennessee, shoplifting is only a misdemeanor punishable by less than a year in jail. While that might be an appropriate sentence for the individual who never shoplifted before, it’s not for serial shoplifters who say they get caught only about once in every 48 times they steal.

We all pay about $500 more for goods annually because of shoplifters. You may think that stores simply “absorb the cost” of shoplifting, but they’d be out of business if they didn’t pass some of that cost to all consumers. Many food stores, for instance, operate on a 1 percent margin. That means they earn only a penny for every dollar in merchandise they sell.

If someone steals a steak worth $10 from a grocery, the store must sell $1,000 in merchandise to recoup that loss. As well, shoplifters overburden the police and the courts, which adds to the ultimate cost to consumers. The total cost: some $35 billion annually.

About 3 percent of shoplifters are professionals who do it for a living. And a Knoxville prosecutor thinks he has found a way to get them out of our stores and into jail cells for longer than the shoplifting offense itself dictates.

It’s a test case, and it involves a 40-year-old man accused of stealing three DVDs from a Wal-Mart in Knoxville. The shoplifting charge would net him at most a few months in jail as a misdemeanor. But he faces an additional charge of felony burglary, which could put him in prison for two years or more if convicted.

That’s because he had previously been convicted for shoplifting and knew he was on Wal-Mart’s “no trespass list” for repeat offenders when he entered a Knoxville store in December 2014, Knox County Assistant District Attorney General TaKisha Fitzgerald told jurors. “He wasn’t supposed to be there,” she said. “He was there.”

Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen last year authorized the use of felony burglary charges against shoplifters who have been banned from stores, asserting a legal theory that may end up in state appellate court.

If it does, the court should uphold the sentence. Meanwhile the legislature should make repeat shoplifting a felony.




May 17

The Knoxville News Sentinel on horse racing in Tennessee:

The state of Tennessee is making another run at re-establishing horse racing, which largely has been dormant since gambling on the ponies was outlawed more than a century ago.

Soon Gov. Bill Haslam will be appointing seven people to serve on the Horse Racing Advisory Committee, which has been authorized by the Legislature to conduct a two-year study and make recommendations for horse racing’s revival. Re-establishing what was once a strong tradition in Tennessee likely would benefit the state. Given the condition of the horse racing industry, however, an in-depth study of the notion is a prudent line to take.

Horse racing is legal in Tennessee, but betting on the outcome is not.

State Sen. Frank Niceley, the Strawberry Plains Republican who was a co-sponsor of the legislation, said legislation legalizing pari-mutuel wagering would be needed for horse racing to be viable once again.

Race tracks have the potential to stimulate the economy. According to the Canadian Consortium for Gambling Research, race tracks provide employment and tax revenues while indirectly supporting farmers, breeders, hotels and other businesses.

In the 19th century, Tennessee was an equine hotbed, surpassing even Kentucky, according to the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History. Andrew Jackson bred and raced thoroughbreds. Knoxville’s Cal Johnson, who was born a slave, became a millionaire from saloons and race horses in the late 1800s. A vestige of the Cal Johnson Racetrack remains as Speedway Circle, an oval residential street in East Knoxville. The Legislature outlawed gambling on horse races in 1906, in large part, said Niceley, to curb Johnson’s power.

Betting on the sport remained illegal until the Legislature approved the Racing Control Act of 1987, a regulatory framework that legalized pari-mutuel wagering on horse racing, and created the Tennessee State Racing Commission to license tracks and enforce the law. Every attempt to build a track fell apart until the commission shut down in 1998. Lawmakers finally repealed the Racing Control Act last year.

The horse racing industry has changed since the late 1990s. Online gambling has taken a sizable portion of the wagering business away from race tracks. Tracks in other states have turned to electronic gambling machines to stanch the flow. Casinos in adjoining states already attract many Tennessee bettors.

There is hope within the industry, however, that the sport might be on the rebound, thanks to the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. American Pharoah’s thrilling run for the Triple Crown last year triggered a surge in the sport’s popularity. Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, writing in Forbes last year, said racing insiders dubbed the resurgence the “American Pharoah Effect.” If the effect has legs, Tennessee’s timing might be right for re-entry into the industry.

The effort could face long odds. Gambling is frowned upon in many communities across the state, and though the bill authorizing the study received overwhelming support in the Senate, it barely passed in the House.

The study is needed to determine whether horse racing is as viable in the 21st century as it was in the 19th. If it is, Tennessee could regain its historic position as a horse racing powerhouse.




May 18

The Johnson City Press on regulating e-cigarettes:

The director of East Tennessee State University’s Tobacco Policy Research Program says he is pleased to see the Food and Drug Administration move to regulate electronic cigarette devices and the chemicals that go into them. Dr. Hadii Mamudu told the Press recently it is “a big win” for public health.

“The FDA is certainly the gatekeeper in terms of everything for safety with products, including e-cigarettes,” said Mamudu, who is an associate professor with ETSU’s Department of Health Services Management and Policy in the school’s College of Public Health. “It’s a major achievement.”

The FDA plans to evaluate the design of so-called vaping devices and keep a watch on the ingredients going into the oils they contain. A FDA study has found the liquid in some e-cigarettes contained toxins besides nicotine.

Although e-cigs don’t burn, they are nonetheless nicotine-delivery devices that release liquid vapors instead of smoke. It’s important for expectant mothers to keep in mind nicotine is an addictive substance that is toxic to reproduction and interferes with healthy fetal brain development.

Researchers also believe nicotine damages fetal lung development and increases the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Health care advocates say teenagers should never smoke. That includes e-cigs, which with their various flavors, have become popular among some young people.

The state Department of Health has cautioned all Tennesseans of any age to steer clear of electronic cigarettes. The department has also expressed concern about the inadequate oversight of the sale of e-cigs and the need for a study to gauge the health effects of secondhand exposure to their vapors.

Meanwhile, critics of the FDA’s regulations have introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to prevent the federal agency from requiring retroactive safety reviews of e-cigarettes that are already on the market and exempt some premium and large cigars from those same regulations.

Vaping and cigar companies say their products are safer than cigarettes and help some cigarette smokers quit. They also argue that small businesses who make vaping products would be forced to go out of business when the rules are in place.



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