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SUNDAY LETTERS TO THE EDITOR for Web Edition

Case is about

making money, laws through suits

The $145 billion Florida tobacco verdict represents an attempted legislative takeover that ignores important public policy issues. It is also, obviously, about money and personal responsibility. First, let's make something clear. I am not a smoker and have no love for or financial interest in tobacco companies.

It would be much more appropriate for our elected officials to address tobacco issues than for a few individuals with a profit motive to do so. The process is pretty simple. One or more personal injury lawyers find an unpopular target and file a class action lawsuit -- if these lawyers win they are set for life with millions or billions in contingency fees. The targets have been tobacco and gun manufacturers, but sport utility vehicle manufacturers seem to be joining the target list.

What gets left behind, however, is representative government, because our elected officials aren't in the middle of this public policy debate. Have we addressed the issue of regulation of tobacco and youth smoking? Will bankrupting some manufacturers stop people from smoking? Probably not. We just made some people very rich without addressing important public issues.

Shouldn't personal responsibility be part of this discussion, too? Why do we, as citizens, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, drive too fast, leave off our seat belts, eat fatty foods and avoid daily exercise when we know it's bad for us? Should we blame ourselves? The idea of $145 billion in punitive awards is laughable on its face, and shows an absolute ignorance of economics and the value of the entire industry. "Sending a message" becomes vigilante justice with no basis in reality. Tobacco is a legal product, last time I looked.

The West Virginia Supreme Court's medical monitoring decision is another example of judicial activism and personal injury lawyer activism spawning lawsuits. This "Bower" decision is hopelessly vague and threatening to West Virginia homeowners and businesses. Let's end "legislating by lawsuit" on important policy issues best left to state and federal legislators.

Robert Mauk

Charleston

Reader grateful for stories vital to

state farmers

I would like to thank the Exponent Telegram, and particularly reporters Franny White and Jennifer Biller, for the stories in the July 3 edition on two issues very important to West Virginia farmers: EPA's restrictive proposed water regulations and continuing low dairy and meat prices. Both articles were quite informative, fair and well-balanced, and made it clear that the state's farmers increasingly face threats to their livelihood and way of life.

However, one item in the former's story was not accurate. The TMDL meetings, including the one held in Clarksburg May 30, were NOT sponsored by EPA. Those meetings were organized, sponsored, publicized and conducted by the West Virginia Farm Bureau, West Virginia Forestry Association, West Virginia Oil & Gas Association, and the Independent Oil & Gas Association.

Our organizations appreciate that EPA graciously had representatives at each meeting to answer questions, but those representatives were there at our invitation. Which begs the question as to why EPA is looking at our farmers in the first place. While cuts continue in government conservation assistance programs such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) -- which provides direct technical and financial assistance to farmers for grassland and water management projects -- EPA is instituting a regulatory rampage against those who historically have been our nation's greatest conservation advocates.

Which is the better way to spend tax dollars: Hiring more environmental police to say "you can" or "you can't" (followed, of course, by endless lawsuits and court battles), or hiring more conservation technicians who say "we can help you ... " or "there's funding available to .... "? Which is more likely to engender a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect between opposing factions? Which is more likely to result in good water quality? Which represents the America you want to live in?

Buddy Davidson

Information Specialist

West Virginia Farm Bureau

Buckhannon

A new hospital would be the

wrong move

The news that United Hospital Center is planning to move to a new location is a surprise. Do people nowadays consider buildings only 40 years old outdated and need an altogether new building at locations that will put them at places probably acceptable to one section of the area but not good for most people?

Having UHC along I-79 would help Bridgeport and eastern Clarksburg. Along I-79, any suitable ground would need to be away from the noise and dirt from so much of the I-79 traffic. The present location of UHC is more quiet, has a four-level parking garage, with surrounding ground likely available to buy for adding on sections.

Look at other health buildings surrounding the hospital that are already in place.

Coming to UHC presently has several options for motorists: Route 19; coming east with a proposed two-mile road from Route 50; coming south from Shinnston and other areas via the Clarksburg Expressway and Milford Street or Chestnut Street, and other areas via Route 98. Show me any other location that would be as accessible for most of the people.

Adding on horizontally to the hospital would be the less costly thing to do. I am sure there are people wise and knowledgeable enough to convert or add on sections to use any newer equipment needed.

But to build an altogether new hospital possibly could make costs to patients much higher. We don't need to start competing with other cities or towns with a more "classy" hospital. We need quality more than quantity.

Hartzel E. Johnston

Clarksburg

Cigarette smoking a personal choice

Every time I see all these "nuts" suing over cigarette smoking, I get livid! I have been smoking for 52 years. That has been my choice. I know it is not good for my health, but if I'm stupid enough to do this, why should I blame any cigarette company? No one held a gun to my head to make me smoke.

Quit blaming all your bad habits on someone else!

Peg Blankenship

Clarksburg

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