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We've not come so very far at all, baby

Is there an echo in here? Listen to this:

A new Harvard study claims that the tobacco industry in recent years has manipulated menthol levels in cigarettes to hook youngsters and maintain loyalty among adult smokers.

Harvard's School of Public Health concluded from a review of industry documents that manufacturers marketed brands to teens by “manipulating sensory elements of cigarettes to promote initiation and dependence.”

Here's how it works: Cigarette companies' research shows young people unaccustomed to smoking tolerate lower levels of menthol, while longtime smokers prefer higher levels. So companies target kids with lighter products, get them smoking, and then push heavier menthol products as they grow older.

Cigarette companies have denied they do any such thing.

Hmmmm. Haven't we heard this before? Last time it was nicotine, the highly addictive substance in cigarettes that was being manipulated.

Is there any doubt that the FDA should have the authority to regulate or remove cigarette additives, including menthol? Is there any doubt why?

Helms' AIDS legacy? Fear, misunderstanding

Note to Republican Elizabeth Dole, North Carolina's senior senator: There are things you honor and things you let fade into the dust.

The late Sen. Jesse Helms' AIDS legacy is in the latter category. It belongs in the dust.

Sen. Dole tried to name an AIDS relief bill in the Senate after Sen. Helms, who died July 4. The effort went nowhere with her peers.

Good.

The bill is a milestone. It triples spending for a program that has treated and protected millions in Africa from the scourges of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. But Jesse Helms' name should not be on it.

Helms remained throughout his life harshly opposed to homosexuality, and blamed homosexuals for the development and spread of the disease in this country.

“There is not one single case of AIDS in this country that cannot be traced in origin to sodomy,” he once said.

In later years Sen. Helms changed his mind about foreign relief programs for AIDS. He worked for funds to stop the spread of the disease in Africa and to assist its victims there.

That carries weight, but not as much weight as inflaming public fear and misunderstanding about the disease (and homosexuals) in America. He never developed compassion for victims here or tempered his hate-filled statements.

That's Sen. Helms' legacy on AIDS, and nothing will erase it.

What was Sen. Dole thinking? That was wrong for the country then, and it's wrong now to try and honor it.

Drive on the shoulders? But we already do that!

We read a couple of weeks ago about how Charlotte commuters could be driving on the shoulders of some interstates during rush hour by next year.

If you find that confusing, we did too.

Judging from the highways, it's already standard practice here in Charlotte to drive on the shoulder of interstates … or any other roadway where there's sufficient space to whip around a driver who's poking along at, say, a mere 85 miles per hour.

Oh, you say the Department of Transportation plans to convert the shoulders to general purpose lanes that could handle traffic at high speeds in order to relieve congestion?

Great! That will make it even easier to get around those deadbeat drivers while text messaging and queuing up the iPod.

Taxpayers pinched again – and hard – by secrecy

A couple of months ago, a big cheer went up across North Carolina over news that the Global TransPark, that black-hole-for-state-dollars economic development project down in Lenoir County, landed a whopper of a tenant – its first big break in the nearly 20 years it's been on the map.

The details of the deal with Spirit AeroSystems, who agreed to build an assembly plant there, prompted the loudest and proudest cheers. More than 1,031 jobs with an average wage of $48,000 were tied to the generous package of incentives North Carolina promised the company.

But officials weren't telling everything. Records released in response to media requests showed that Spirit only has to create about half those jobs to get the whopping $180 million in breaks and other benefits coming to it from the public kitty.

That's a convincing argument for not cutting these hush-hush deals in secret. Sure, you sometimes have to negotiate behind closed doors. But here's a good rule: Details that involve promises made with public money ought to be fully disclosed and vetted before agreements are signed, sealed and delivered.

Secrecy helped Dell pinch N.C. pretty good in 2004. Now it looks as though we've been pinched again – hard.

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