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Should Smoking Age be 21?; Should Airport Screeners be U.S. Citizens?

Aired February 21, 2002 - 15:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, HOST: Target smokers: the California push to raise the smoking age to 21.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is bad for you. I have been smoking since I was 11, and I can't quit.

KAGAN: Also, should screening jobs at U.S. airports be limited to citizens?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The citizenship requirement discriminates unlawfully and irrationally.

KAGAN: And Hollywood hype: Congratulate the not so blushing bride to be, and check out the gift registry. After four marriages, what does this girl need?

KAGAN: Welcome to TALKBACK LIVE, "America Speaks Out." Glad to be here. Hi, everybody. I'm Daryn Kagan. I am going to be doing the show for you today.

We are going to get to Liza, and she is registered on Figure that one out. We are going to talk about that in a bit.

But first, something more important to most of us: Who is screening you at the airport. New government standards sat that they should be U.S. citizens, but the U.S. Department of Transportation says that up to 70 percent of screeners in some parts of the country are not.

Obviously, they are upset, and we are going to meet some of them, including Jeimy Gebin; she is an airport screener at Los Angeles International Airport, LAX; she is originally from El Salvador and has been in the United States for 16 years. thank you very much for joining you I want to learn a little bit did about your cause.

Jeimy, thanks for joining us. I want to learn a little bit more about your cause.


KAGAN: How long have you been a screener?

GEBIN: Six months now.

KAGAN: What were you doing before that?

GEBIN: I was in the U.S. Army for three years.

KAGAN: So were you in the U.S. Army, you have been doing the screening for six months. And if you do not become a U.S. citizen come November, you are going to lose your job?

GEBIN: Yes, I am.

KAGAN: Do you think that is fair?

GEBIN: No, I don't. I think if you're able to serve in the U.S. military, you should be able to have a federal job.

KAGAN: Is it possible for you to become a U.S. citizen by November?

GEBIN: Actually, I don't know. I just became eligible. I sent out my papers, and I am just waiting for them to respond.

KAGAN: Very good.

Why do you want this job? Why is it such a great job to have?

GEBIN: Right now, the job is paying us good, and it is good to know that you are providing a service in keeping the air safe.

KAGAN: But you understand when people say, why some American citizens say, the only people they really trust to do this job, to make sure all of the baggage goes on board, are U.S. citizens? Do you see any legitimacy with that argument?

GEBIN: No, I don't, because why do they let service members be residents? Why do they have to be U.S. citizens?

KAGAN: How are you fighting this?

GEBIN: I am part of a lawsuit right now. I am a plaintiff, and we are just waiting to see if Congress is going to help us.

KAGAN: All right. Well, Jeimy Gebin, I want to thank you for sharing your story with us.

Also, taking up your cause, the ACLU has taken up the cause of the baggage handlers.

Attorney Ben Wizner joins us, along with former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Victoria Toensing. She established the Justice Department's terrorism unit.

Welcome to both of you.



KAGAN: Victoria, let me start with you. You hear a story, like Jeimy's, like we just heard -- this is a woman that served three years in the U.S. Army. If she's good enough for the U.S. Army, why isn't she good enough to check my luggage before it goes on board a plane?

TOENSING: Let's back up, because if anyone thought that putting the security screening in the hands of the federal government was going to cure its ills, they were truly misinformed.

KAGAN: Let's not back up, because that is where we are today -- or that's where we are going to be in November.

TOENSING: That is the problem, and this is what Congress has done. I do not think that citizenship is the end all and be all for criteria for being a checker or a screener at the airport, not in any way. But I want standards, and I want someone to have lived in the United States at least five years. I want the person to have...


KAGAN: Let's go to that five years thing. This young woman we just met, Jeimy -- she has not been in the country, as far as I know, five years, but has been with the U.S. Army three years. That wouldn't be good enough for your standards?

TOENSING: If its in the U.S. Army -- whatever allows our government to do a background check of the person, you see. If somebody just comes in and gets off the plane for six months from Jordan, how can you possibly do a background check of them? I want every single screener, because they are gateway to the airplane. A corrupt screener can put the terrorist on a airplane. So I want us to have the capability to be able to do these background checks.

And whatever it is, if it's U.S. citizen living here for five years, or if it's like Jeimy, who seems like a wonderful employee -- Ben is very wise -- he has got a good plaintiff. But I'm sure for every Jeimy there are 10 people who are not going to make the impression that she is making, and we have to have standards.

KAGAN: Let's go ahead and bring Ben in.

Ben, tell me about this lawsuit and what you hope to achieve.

I will.

WIZNER: First of all, I want to a agree with Victoria that we have to have standards, and we are not opposed to the most rigorous kind of background checks. What we think does not make sense is saying citizenship status alone is what defines whether you are loyal to this country or competent to do the job.

In the lawsuit, we allege that this law discriminates against noncitizens simply because of their citizenship status. Jeimy is a good example. There are 50 noncitizens who are currently in out armed forces. If Jeimy loses her job because of this law, she can cross the street, pick up a gun, join the National Guard, and be back in the airport the next day wearing a uniform, and that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to us.

KAGAN: Some other conflicts too. So you can't be a baggage screener if you're not a U.S. citizen, but you could be a pilot on board one of those airliners, couldn't you?

WIZNER: You could be a pilot, you could be a flight attendant, you could be a baggage handler, you could be a mechanic, you could a cargo loader, you could be a food concessioner -- all of those people have access to airplanes, to the tarmac, and none of those people have a requirement of being U.S. citizens...


KAGAN: Let me propose this: Perhaps this is just the first test. Maybe all of those people should be U.S. citizens. Maybe you start with the baggage screeners and move on. Anybody who has an access to an airliner in the U.S should be a U.S. citizen.

WIZNER: I do not think that would improve safety. I don't think that that is what the American people want. Look, these are lawful permanent residents of this country. They have undergone serious background checks just to be able to get their green cards. They undergo a second background check to get these jobs. In airports like San Francisco International Airport, where 80 percent of the screeners are noncitizens, if you get rid of all of them and try to replace them with inexperienced new screeners, you are going to see that security will be harmed, and it won't be helped. And if you do that with every job in the airport, it will be even worse.

KAGAN: I want to go to the phones. We have a caller calling in. You mentioned San Francisco -- a caller from California.

What town or city in California are you calling from?

IVY: Hello?

KAGAN: Ivy, yes, you are on the phone with us.

IVY: This is Ivy. Hello, Daryn.

KAGAN: Hello. What's your comment.

IVY: I would like to say that I think anybody that works in the airports should be a U.S. citizen and to have the biggest background check that there possibly could be. I do not think they should hire anybody that is not a U.S. citizen.

KAGAN: We are not just talking baggage screeners? You are talking pilots.


IVY: All of them, all of them. All of them. I think it would be better for our safety -- all of them.

KAGAN: Victoria, is that practical, do you think?

TOENSING: No, I have said that, and I do not really disagree on this, that I do not think just the fact of citizenship is the important criterion. I think, though, that the person must be fluent in English, we must have people who we can give thorough background checks on, and most of the time, that is U.S. citizens. There are exceptions, like Jeimy, and I am not against Ben's exceptions. I don't think it is the only test.

We probably, Ben and I, do not disagree that much. I hope you would be in agreement with me that people should have to speak fluent English.


WIZNER: Absolutely, we agree that English fluency is important.

And I do take issue with calling Jeimy an exception. Certainly, she is an exceptional person, but there is nothing exceptional about important parts of her story. She has been in this country for most of her life, more than five years. She just recently became eligible to be a U.S. citizen. I do not think changing her designation on a piece of paper is going to change her ability to do her job.

And I think it's is a practical impossibly to replace all noncitizens with citizens in airports. But I also think what message are we sending when we say that thousands of noncitizens can go can go and fight and die for this country, but they can't have simple jobs in airports.

KAGAN: One thing that is clear is that the system as it was before September 11 was not working, and some changes did have to come and did have to be made.

I want to go to our audience right now.

We are going to start with Amanda, from Mississippi.

In case you are wondering, yes, we do have a bunch of beautiful women and beauty pageant contestants with us today.

So Amanda, you go ahead.

AMANDA: My comment is I wholeheartedly make the statement that you should be a U.S. citizen all the way around the board; however, there should be a thorough background check.

I'm not only saying that U.S. citizens, nobody else. U.S. citizens -- if there is something else that comes along, fine. This is the land of opportunity. Give them a chance. But September the 11th was a rude awakening for not only this country, but everywhere else around the world, that this is the land of opportunity. Let's take care of the people of this land first, and after that, then hey, come on over here and let's make this world a better place for everyone.


KAGAN: Victoria, I am going to have to have you hold that comment. And then, we are also going to hear from Nigel (ph), he's from England, to give us a different perspective. Right now, a quick break and we'll be back after this.




KAGAN: Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. We continue our discussion on whether baggage screeners at U.S. airports need to be U.S. citizens. That will be the law as of November and it's affecting a lot of people who could lose their jobs. Opinions flying right here in our audience. We have Nigel (ph), who is a guest from England, with his own opinion. Nigel?

NIGEL: Yes, good afternoon. I share all your concerns with regards to security and terrorism, but I want to speak obviously to Miss Nubian Mississippi over there. You want every screener to be a U.S. citizen. That will make you feel more secure. That's correct, is it?

Should you ever have the good fortune to come across the U.K., how can I make you feel secure? Do I have to install U.S. citizens to be screeners in our country to make you feel safer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, actually...


... it's very good that you made that point because I am a Euro- traveler. As of right now, my fiancee plays basketball overseas, so I am traveling back and forth all of the time. I've lived in Russia and recently I've just come from Turkey, so that is another country. You understand what I am saying? And over there, that is fine. If that is how you run your country, then you want all of your citizens to be of that country, then that's fine. That didn't happen there.

I am talking about what happened here. I do not feel safe because I know it may be -- it's discrimination to a certain extent, but the world is not fair. It's not fair. And I lost friends. My friends lost friends. They lost family. It touched me. I mean, they asked me for my opinion, how I feel, and I do not feel comfortable.

If I look over and I see you and things that just happened, you -- people go every day and they look and they see a certain person. Because of my skin color -- take me for an example -- that they will grab their purse. But it's the same thing. It's not fair. I am not going to steal your purse, but you do not feel safe with me next to you. And if I do not feel safe with you checking my bag, I just don't feel safe. KAGAN: All right. Let's go -- move around the audience a little bit more. Another Miss Nubian, Miss Nubian New York, Ori (ph), has a different opinion.

ORI): Yes. I think everybody tends to forget the fact there are also incidents that have happened in this country that have been perpetrated by American citizens. I saw those World Trade Center towers tumble from my apartment in the Bronx in New York. And it hurt me too. But at the same time, there are things that have happened like the Oklahoma City bombing happened and it was done by American citizens. And to take jobs away from hard-working people just because they do not have the blue passport, that is just wrong in my opinion.


KAGAN: And then, finally from our audience, we have Matt, who is a flight attendant, and he has even a different opinion about that. You do want to see U.S. citizens being baggage handlers.

MATT: I would very much like to see U.S. citizens with the job right now. We are still having security issues throughout the U.S. at different airports. In fact, there was a couple of ones that have happened very close, and there is still -- something is wrong now that -- it needs to be changed. And we were talking earlier about pilots and flight attendants not being U.S. citizens. They have to be U.S. citizens. We have to go through background checks. We have to have passports and everything like that. To come across like that, yes, we do have U.S. screeners as -- U.S. citizens as screeners.

KAGAN: Ben, do you want get on this one?

WIZNER: Yes, I mean, he is just not correct. There is no citizenship requirement for airline pilots and there could not be, if you think about all of the foreign airlines that fly through our airports and American citizens on those planes. And there is simply no citizenship requirement for flight attendants as well. Maybe many of them are U.S. citizens.

But I just want to say everyone agrees that the events of September 11 were a horrific tragedy, and that much needed to be done to improve our aviation security. We support raising the wages of airport screeners. We support raising the training for airport screeners. We support more rigorous background checks, the most rigorous background checks that can be done. But I do not think that anybody is going to be any safer or should feel safer just because somebody has a U.S. passport in his job.

KAGAN: Victoria, let me bring you back in, and I want to get back to some of these ideas that you said you had. One was living in the U.S. for five years?


KAGAN: And what else?

TOENSING: You cannot do a background check unless you have a specific amount of time to really look at what the person has done with his or her life and look at the people who produced September 11. They came to this country and lived for several years planning.

KAGAN: They came legally.

TOENSING: Well, they came legally because we have messed up laws, so let me -- but I want to say something about what Ben and I, I think, both agree on, and that is this is an example of sausage (ph) and laws being made in a hurry. And Congress is passing a law just to get it done so that everyone would feel...

KAGAN: Victoria, this was not a hurry. This took months after September 11, Congress...


Congress could not get their act together for months before they passed this airport security bill.

TOENSING: Well, months is not a long time for legislation.

KAGAN: It is when people are nervous about traveling, Victoria.

TOENSING: Well, but that is exactly what I am saying, Daryn. This is not long enough for them to have thought it out because they were doing about 10-dozen other things that also had to do with September 11. By passing just this one thing about citizenship without looking into what I strongly believe in, and that is the background checks and looking at what the people have done in the past, having to speak fluent English in order to have these jobs, they really miss the nuances. They made it a partisan political issue.

The Democrats said the Republicans did not want a governmentalized because then they would all become Democrats, a logic which escaped me then and now. And we have hasty legislation and we are now living with it. The government is not prepared to take over this security system, and everyone ought to know that.

KAGAN: And just so -- as we wrap this up, Ben, I just want to just check with you here. This is the law and this is going to go into effect in November unless something like congressional action takes place or your lawsuit is successful. Is that correct?

WIZNER: That's right. And I think Congress is taking a second look at this issue. Some of the principal sponsors of the original legislation have already introduced a new bill that would amend, in part, the citizenship requirements. I do agree with Victoria to the extent that this bill was passed in a bit of a rush at the end and that a lot of the members did not read the final product, and that it is time to take a second look.

I do want to make one point about the September 11 hijackers. Although they came into this country legally, many of them, none of them had lawful permanent resident status. And in order to get that status, you do have to go through a comprehensive background check. And all of the screeners who are non-citizens are here with green cards, are lawful permanent residents, do not have the same status that the hijackers had. They are willing to undergo more background checks, if that's what is necessary. They simply think that it is not fair to single them out and scapegoat them.

KAGAN: We will have that be the last word. Ben Wizner, Victoria Toensing, thank you for joining us today, up next, we are going to take a quick break here, but if you outlaw smoking will you just create more smoking laws? Stay with us.

Coming up on TALKBACK LIVE.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is nothing that we have done to harm the flying public.


KAGAN: Can you think of any reason why screeners at U.S. airports should be U.S. citizens.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A level of ownership in my opinion.


KAGAN: Give your opinion next on TALKBACK LIVE.


KAGAN: Question right now is who, as an adult, is 18 too young to buy cigarettes? It turns out that some members of the California Medical Association do. They are considering a push to raise the legal smoking age 21.

And here to talk about that, Patrick Reynolds, founder of His grandfather founded the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; and Jacob Sullum, syndicated columnist and senior editor of "Reason" magazine. He is the author of "For Your Own Good," the anti- smoking crusade and the tyranny of public health.

Gentlemen, thanks for joining us this afternoon here on TALKBACK LIVE.

Patrick, let's start with you. Let's raise -- or at least in California -- raise the age when you can't buy cigarettes until 21. What do you think?

PATRICK REYNOLDS, EDITOR, TOBACCOFREE.ORG: I think that is a great idea. I have long championed that idea. You know, 60 percent of all the smokers in the nation started before the age of 14, so a majority of smokers start before 14. And nine out of every 10 smokers...

KAGAN: What is raising it to 21 going to do if at 18 you can buy them? I mean, if you are already getting them a 14...

REYNOLDS: Of course, 9 out of 10 smokers...

KAGAN: If you are already getting them at 14 raise to 21.

REYNOLDS: Eight out of every 10 smokers in nation got addicted before their 19th birthday, so if we can keep kids off cigarettes until 21, like we try to do with alcohol, it will go a long way toward giving us a smoke free society, because a lot of people, in fact, almost nobody starts smoking after the age of 19.

KAGAN: All right, Jacob. We will bring you in here. It's hard to be in favor of smoking, you are not necessarily in favor of that, so why not do more to try to prevent more people from smoking?

JACOB SULLUM, SR. EDITOR "REASON": I think is legitimate to have a legal purchase age for cigarettes. It's a dangerous product. The use of it has potential long-term consequences and it is the sort of thing that children should not be allowed to do on their own.

But the question becomes when do you stop being a child? When are you an adult?

If 18 is old enough to get married, to join the military, to enter into contracts, it ought to be old enough to smoke cigarettes. I think we should pick an age and stick with it, and that goes for the drinking age as well. I think that ought to be 18, and I don't see how raising the age to 21 is going to stop people from smoking when the age is already 18, and the average smoker starts at 15, starts smoking daily around 17 or 18.

So, clearly the current law is not preventing people from smoking and it is not clear to me how raising it to 21 is going to help.

KAGAN: Patrick, let's go to I think what is the most compelling part of Jacobs argument there. If the government is saying you are old enough to get married, you are old enough to die for this country, how can they tell you they are not old enough to pick up a cigarette if that is what you choose to do?

REYNOLDS: Well, this is tobacco industry spin, and you know, the tobacco industry knows that you are old enough to pick a cigarette up when you are 18 and that is exactly what they want you to do, at least according to some of their internal memos. So if they can get our kids hooked during their teen years, they will have them as customers probably for 17 years before they are able to quit on average.

KAGAN: But we are not really talking about the teen years here. When you are saying 18 to 21 this is young adulthood. You are past your teenage impressionable years and clearly the government is saying there is enough reason to get married.

REYNOLDS: Yes, getting married, OK...

KAGAN: I'm sorry, stand by, a little delay we are going to fix that, also I need to go up to Bill Hemmer, who has some breaking news and we will get back to this conversation in just a moment -- Bill.


KAGAN: Welcome back to TALKBACK LIVE. We had to step away for a moment to get the breaking news in. Of course, you can stay with CNN. Not only do we have these fascinating conversations, but also we bring you the breaking news as it happens.

All right, now we want to get back to our conversation about the California Medical Association perhaps making a push to raise the legal age where you could buy cigarettes from 18 to 21. A lot of opinions on that in our audience, but you got to hear this guy on the phone from New York.

Is it Nick?


KAGAN: Nick, tell me your proposal.

CALLER: I think we should lower the legal age and voting age to 13. And, by the way, this is supposed to be a free country. This is why we got rid of the Soviet Union. If we want to have all our rights taken away, we can just go back to communism.

KAGAN: Nick, you think that kids should be able to buy cigarettes at 13?

CALLER: Sure, they already do anyway.

KAGAN: What have you been smoking, Nick?

CALLER: Nothing.


KAGAN: All right.

CALLER: And I'm 34.

KAGAN: Are you buying cigarettes, by the way?

CALLER: No, I don't smoke and I don't drink.

REYNOLDS: Nick, where is the freedom in the slavery to nicotine addiction? And only teenagers start to smoke. So please take that into consideration. You know, the Europeans empower their kids by saying: You know, we trust in you kids.

They have less regulations, but they have a much higher smoking rate than we do. They are 35 percent smoking. We are like 24 percent here in the States.

KAGAN: All right, we want to go to our audience now. And now we go to Stephanie from Arizona.

Stephanie, what do you think about raising the age where you could buy cigarettes from 18 to 21?

STEPHANIE: I believe that, by keeping the smoking age at 18 and by having the drinking age at 21, we are sending the impression that smoking is not as dangerous as drinking, when we all know that smoking is in fact as dangerous, if not more dangerous not only to the person that is smoking, but also to others around them.

KAGAN: So you could lower the drinking age to 18 from 21?

STEPHANIE: No, I definitely think it should be 21. We should at least give the children three more healthy years.


KAGAN: But we have, from New Mexico, Bernadette with a different opinion.

BERNADETTE: Yes. I don't agree that we should raise the age to 21, because I think right now, as it stands, most people are starting out at 8 1/2, 11 years old. And that three years is not the time when people start to smoke. So this is just another rush-out approach at banning something that we need to address by education and letting students know and people know what the consequences are. Let them make their own decisions.


KAGAN: A lot of support for that. We have two other guests we want to get on this as well.

Joining our conversation right now is John Banzhaf, professor of public interests at George Washington University -- he is also executive director of Action Smoking and Health -- and Audrey Silk, founder of New York C.L.A.S.H: Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment.

Welcome. Thanks for joining our conversation.


If I could answer that question.

KAGAN: Jump right in.

BANZHAF: All right.

Although most kids do in fact start smoking before 18, a significant number in fact do start between 18 and 21. And many who started younger and then quit managed to be lured in between 18 and 21. There are tensions and temptations as they go away to college, start their first job. They have a higher rate, by the way, in that rate than any other category, than all adults. And they cost us all nonsmokers billions and billions of dollars every year. So there are good reasons for doing it.

KAGAN: All right, Audrey, let's have you jump in here. You, as a smoker, think that it is yet another way you are picking on smokers.

AUDREY SILK, FOUNDER, NEW YORK CITY C.L.A.S.H: OK. First of all, Mr. Banzhaf makes the case about costing smokers. He is also now part of a class-action lawsuit against big fat. So he is in it for something else.

KAGAN: What is that?

SILK: Oh, he is suing for -- Surgeon General Satcher has just come out with a report that obesity will soon overtake tobacco as costing people in health care.


BANZHAF: Daryn, I am not suing anybody at the moment. I'm not suing anybody.

KAGAN: We'll do that a different show.

Audrey, let's talk smoking. Let's talk smoking and kids 18 to 21.

SILK: Yes, but we have to understand what their goal actually is.

And Mr. Reynolds makes my case, when he says that, from pushing it from 18 to 21, when he says it is 14-year-olds, 15-year-olds smoking, he wants to reach a smoke-free society. And this is their goal wrapped up in this Trojan horse to change attitudes and make people think even harder, or, yes, it is so bad. We must take way adult choice. When you have 18-year-olds who can serve in the military, it is extremely hypocritical.


REYNOLDS: Only children are starting to smoke, Audrey. Only teenagers start to smoke. Those are the only ones who getting addicted. After 19, virtually almost nobody starts smoking after 19. It is as addicting as heroin.

SILK: Mr. Reynolds, millions of people have quit. And millions of people have quit. It is a choice that we can choose to make ourselves. And we don't need somebody else to choose for us.


REYNOLDS: Just a moment.

Once a teenager gets hooked, the average smoker smokes for 17 years. They try and try to quit smoking. They can't quit. They smoke on average for 17 years, spending around $1,200 a year on tobacco products. That is a lot of money over 17 years. And it as addicting as heroin. Unlike military service, unlike alcohol, unlike getting married, it is as addicting as heroin. And only our kids are starting to smoke. We need to raise the purchase age to 21. And we need to do it now. KAGAN: I want to throw one other idea out there. Even the American Lung Association does not agree with this idea that they are saying that that is not where you should put your efforts: in raising the age of when people can buy cigarettes. What they do suggest is raising the taxes so that it is more expensive to buy tobacco products and that would put it further out of reach of young people.

Audrey, what do you think of that?

BANZHAF: That is an assumption that you can only do one thing.

One of the things we know about smoking and smoking education is that there is no one thing, no one magic bullet. In California, they have restricted smoking in public places. They have raised the tax. They have done a fantastic job of anti-smoking education. They have almost the lowest rate of smoking and teen smoking anywhere in the country.

Now, we are overlooking the idea that, in at least three states, you cannot buy cigarettes at 18. This is not some inherent freedom.

SILK: Well, it's 19.

BANZHAF: No, at 19 you can. But it if can be 19, it can be 20.

SULLUM: Well, why don't you make it 30, then?

BANZHAF: In most states, you cannot buy alcohol. You cannot serve in various public offices. As a practical matter, kids of 19 or 20 can't rent cars. They can't sign most loans without a co-signer. So it's not as if they're complete adults.

SULLUM: There is an assumption here underlying this discussion that I would to question, which is, because the vast majority smokers start as teenagers, if somehow we could magically prevent them from touching cigarettes until they reach the age of 18 or 21 or whatever it is, perhaps 25 or 30, then no one would ever smoke.


KAGAN: I don't think he is saying no one. I think he is saying fewer. And fewer would be a good thing.

SULLUM: The same people who start smoking now as teenagers might very well start smoking at a later age if somehow you could prevent them from having access to cigarettes.


BANZHAF: You should know that all of the evidence is to the contrary, that very few people start over the age of 21.

SULLUM: That is in the current situation. I'm saying, if you could somehow prevent all of those people from touching cigarettes until they turn 18 or 21, what would happen? The honest answer is, we don't know. (CROSSTALK)

KAGAN: Here's my question that I want to put to the panel. And I'll use the panel for this to make this point.

Audrey, you are a smoker, yes?

SILK: Yes.

KAGAN: Our three other guests, have any of you ever smoked a cigarette?


KAGAN: You never have?


SULLUM: I have had the occasional cigarette.

KAGAN: OK. Patrick?

REYNOLDS: I was a smoker for 17 years. And it took me 12 failed attempts to quit, one of the hardest things I ever did.

KAGAN: But my question is, at what age -- and let's start with you, Audrey -- did you have that first cigarette?

SILK: Sixteen.

KAGAN: Sixteen?


REYNOLDS: Fourteen, 15.

KAGAN: Jacob?

SULLUM: Seventeen.

KAGAN: And John? Oh, you said you have never smoked.

BANZHAF: Well, I don't get to vote, but I tell you, I work on a college campus. And I know a lot of the kids come in. They are not smokers. Maybe they quit. Maybe they never started. They suddenly have to pull all-nighters. They are in a dorm. They are worried about all these tensions. And suddenly they start smoking. And that is one of the reasons why the tobacco industry is so dead set on getting kids at that age to start.

KAGAN: The point I'm trying to get to, even with the law now at 18 -- and we can see from using you guys as a group here -- kids are going to get cigarettes. And the law, as it stands now, is not necessarily going to keep them from getting those cigarettes. So isn't really the effort that needs to be made more education and enforcing the laws that already exist? (CROSSTALK)

BANZHAF: One thing we do know is that the laws do make it more difficult for kids to start.

REYNOLDS: That's right. There was a regulation for a while that a child had to look -- they have to look 27. And if they don't appear to be 27, the clerk has to ask to see I.D. Now, that, merchant education, fines to clerks, sting operations, going in and sending kids uncover in to try to buy cigarettes with agents waiting outside, I'm sorry, these regulations work.

And I would be in favor of them, because we have a lower smoking rate. In our culture in America, we tend to be a little bit more regulatory than in Europe. And it is working., We have a 24 percent rate of smoking vs. 34 in Europe.

KAGAN: And, Daryn, if that argument is valid, what's wrong with lowering the age for alcohol to 18, or even 13? What is wrong with the argument?

SILK: You two are getting in your opinions here. This is nothing more than a Puritan-type move, because -- and you are pulling at the heart-strings of the public using children.

KAGAN: Of people who care about kids?

SILK: He would prefer that nobody smokes and using this as a ploy in the next step to make tobacco socially unacceptable, denormalize it, to use in their own words. They wouldn't if you're 18, 21 or 50.

REYNOLDS: Tobacco is socially unacceptable.

SILK: No, because you say so.

REYNOLDS: Around the world today, we are expecting 500 million people will die from smoking. That's 9 percent of the entire world population will die because of smoking.


SILK: It is none of your business.

REYNOLDS: Almost all of them stated as teenagers. And we can do something about it.

SILK: And you have quit. And you are a perfect example that, if you want to, you can.


KAGAN: Audrey, tell me again how old, again, you were when you started smoking.

SILK: Sixteen. KAGAN: Sixteen?

SILK: And I have no intention to quit. I do not want to. I enjoy

KAGAN: In your entire life, you have never thought about quitting?



BANZHAF: We're not talking about heart-stings, though. We're talking about pocketbooks. We're talking about a cost of $130 billion a year, most of which is paid by nonsmokers in the form of higher taxes and health insurance.


SILK: So, are the smokers paying for your new suit, your new class-action suit that is coming out?


KAGAN: Hold it. Hold it. No, I'm sorry. We are out of time. Sorry, Jacob, we are out of time.

We're going to let Audrey go have a cigarette break. She might need a cigarette right now.

BANZHAF: No lawsuits, Audrey. Sorry.

KAGAN: No lawsuits, just a quick drag on a cigarette.

Thanks to all of our guests. We want to say thank you to Patrick Reynolds, Jacob Sullum, John Banzhaf and Audrey Silk. Thank you so much.

And we continue now on TALKBACK LIVE. In fact, no cigarettes, but we are going to a party after this. Stay with us.

Still ahead on TALKBACK LIVE: the Hollywood engagement party so big, it needs Larry King to co-host and attract the who's who of Hollywood's galaxy of stars. Stick around. It's all up next.


KAGAN: It's Liza's big day, well, at least for her engagement party. There is an engagement taking place to rival all of the Hollywood's golden age tonight. The happy couple, Liza Minnelli and David Gest, her finance, are throwing such an elaborate bash that our own Larry King is going to co-host the event with retired sports agent Dennis Gilbert. Their co-best men": Michael and Tito Jackson. And -- the girls are giggling here -- co-maids of honor, Elizabeth Taylor and Marisa Berenson. Here with the lowdown on this is Christopher John Farley, senior editor for "TIME" magazine and author of "Aaliyah: "More Than a Woman."

Christopher, good to see you.

CHRISTOPHER FARLEY, "TIME": Hey, thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

All those years doing journalism in college, this is why, to talk about Liza Minnelli's engagement party.

FARLEY: Exactly. My mom is so proud of me right now.

KAGAN: That she is. You can only hope she is not watching.


KAGAN: All right, let's get through this.

So this big bash tonight in Hollywood. This is for a lot of the West Coast guests that are not making it to the big wedding March 16 in New York City.

FARLEY: Right. The wedding is going to be in New York. This engagement party is the West coast.

It's funny. When I saw Liza perform at the Michael Jackson tribute to himself last year, I said to myself, it does not get more over the top than this. And, then, like, I read about this engagement party, I'm like, OK, I guess there is a level beyond the level that I saw there.

KAGAN: Oh, yes, it does. And because the lovely bride -- I think this is her fifth trip down the aisle -- she is registered. Let's go to and look at some of the items that you, too, Christopher, can buy for Liza Minnelli: 12 platters at $2,900 a piece.

FARLEY: Yes, I think I am going to go and just get six of those.

KAGAN: Well, hold on. Don't pick yet, because also they want some ladles, four ladles, yes.

FARLEY: Ladles, OK.

KAGAN: Yes, $475 a pop there.

FARLEY: I think I got some spares ones in my basement. I think I may wrap those and send those along.

KAGAN: And a bargain for somebody who might be on a restricted budget: salt and pepper shakers. Only $235 dollars for the pair, Christopher. But they want 16 of them.

FARLEY: I am surprised they didn't want 24. KAGAN: Here's the good news. If you ever get invited to their house for a dinner party, chances are you will have your own salt and pepper shakers in front of your place setting.

FARLEY: Well, I have something to look forward to.

KAGAN: That you do. And I know that is what are you looking for.

Anyhow, Christopher, thank you very much. We're having a little bit of fun. And, of course, we want to wish our congratulations to the happy couple.

Christopher Farley from "TIME" magazine, thanks for talking to us.

FARLEY: Thanks for having me.

KAGAN: Appreciate it.

Quick one there. We hope the wedding lasts longer than that segment, a lot of things -- the wedding and the marriage, for that matter.

I want to thank our studio audience, all of our guests, and, of course, all of you at home. I'm Daryn Kagan. TALKBACK LIVE right back here tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. Eastern.




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