TOBACCO: HUD Draws Fire for Sponsoring Smoke Shops
After drawing fire for spending $4.2 million since 1996 to subsidize the construction of smoke shops on Native American reservations, the Department of Housing and Urban Development now faces an attack from Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), chair of the Senate subcommittee that oversees HUD's budget. He is calling on the agency to stop supplying grants for the stores, which sell tax-free cigarettes and other tobacco products at discount prices. But HUD Assistant Secretary Hal Decell maintains that halting funds would harm Native Americans' economic development. He wrote, "We believe there are serious policy, programmatic and legal constraints against such an action." HUD spokesperson David Egner added, "Federal block grant programs are designed to give local governments, not Washington, control over how to best spend federal funds."
Legislate Common Sense
Bond said, "It was my hope that HUD would know the difference between right and wrong and voluntarily end its funding ... It now appears [Congress] may need to legislate a common sense solution for HUD." Egner noted that if such legislation was approved, HUD would "obey that restriction." But the National Congress of American Indians has vowed to fight any attempts to limit funding for smoke shops. The group's spokesperson warned, "We will ... make it very clear to the White House that in no way should they sign off on a bill that has that kind of discrimination measure in it. The next thing we'll do is go to the Hill, because we have a lot of friends there, and we'll get our friends to make this as controversial as possible (New York Times, 3/6).