Nicotine's relationship to spinal disordersRecent Food and...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Nicotine's relationship to spinal disorders

Recent Food and Drug Administration plans to regulate the use and marketing of tobacco products has once again brought to the forefront some of the health hazards associated with cigarette smoking.

What many people are unaware of is the strong relationship between nicotine and degenerative disorders of the spine.

Millions of people in this country suffer as as a result of degeneration of the spine. Symptoms of these disorders include pain, numbness or weakness in the neck, back, arms or legs.

It has been estimated that 80 percent of Americans will seek out a health-care professional at some point in their lives with these complaints.

Many billions of dollars are spent each year on medical care and lost wages as a result.

Although not all of the factors contributing to these symptoms have been completely identified, one association is clear. Those individuals who smoke have a much higher incidence of spinal discs contributing to their degeneration. These discs are the key "shock absorbers" located throughout the spine and are necessary for normal and pain-free function.

Also, many studies have shown that the result of both non-surgical and surgical care of these disorders is significantly less successful in smokers.

The debate over the role our government plays in the regulation of tobacco products will continue. Educating the public on just how nicotine affects our bodies should be one of its highest priorities.

Roy E. Bands Jr., M.D.

Annapolis

The writer is an orthopedic surgeon.

Providing comfort to dying patients

I applaud The Sun's coverage (July 28, "Physicians learn the practice of comfort") of the efforts being taken in medical schools to enhance physicians' ability to provide comfort care and alleviation of pain to dying patients.

Reasons which may explain why "many patients die in pain, isolated and alone" include the dominance of the technological imperative in medical culture, a principle that emphasizes only treatments aimed at cure; the perception that an inability to cure a disease represents failure; and the discomfort physicians have when caring for dying patients. This discomfort may be attributed to physicians' own fear of dying, a fear that studies have shown is higher among physicians compared with the general population.

In an effort to stimulate discussion on the practice of comfort care, the Medical Humanities Hour at the University of Maryland Medical System is devoting monthly seminars this fall to issues involved with comfort care and pain relief of dying patients.

The first presentation, at 4: 30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, will feature Dr. Joan Harrold, a lead investigator of the George Washington study mentioned in the Sun article. For further information, call 706-6250.

Henry Silverman, M.D.

Baltimore

The writer is an ethicist for the University of Maryland Medical System.

Drug use related to women working

On Aug. 21, I read with shock and dismay that teen-age drug use increased 105 percent in the three-year period from 1992 to 1995.

When I turned to the editorial page (Aug. 21, "Better jobs for women"), I read, "The time when women's work was in the home is long past in this country."

Could there be some connection?

Selma Pollack

Baltimore

Schmoke contract not with city agency

I would like to bring to your attention an inaccuracy in your Aug. 20 editorial, "All in the family." Neither Dr. Patricia Schmoke nor the firm with which she is associated, Metropolitan Eye Associates, has a contract with the Baltimore City Health Department.

Metropolitan Eye Associates has a contract with Baltimore Medical System Inc., a not-for-profit organization, to provide eye care for clients in its facilities. Because of Dr. Schmoke's involvement, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has recused himself from any actions regarding BMS that are presented to the Board of Estimates.

Peter L. Beilenson, M.D.

Baltimore

The writer is commissioner of health for the city of Baltimore.

Democrats put on a phony show

Christopher Reeve's appearance at the Democratic convention and his speech show what the president and the Democratic National Committee are all about.

Showmanship, and sleazy showmanship at that.

The president and the committee must have a poor opinion of the intelligence of the voter.

Anyone with a modicum of intelligence can recognize trickery.

Kathryn Newkirk

Woodlawn

State subsidies should be ended

It was bound to happen sooner or later. Now we have Joe De Francis saying that since the state built a ball park and will begin construction on a football stadium, he should get a new race track. Always the story is the same, the jobs that go with the project.

Where do you draw the line? I say enough is enough. When are the wealthy (De Francis is no peasant) going to gamble with their own money to promote their own financial interests?

Richard L. Lelonek

Baltimore

State harness racing hit hardest, first by Delaware slots

You want proof that Delaware slot machines can decimate Maryland racing? Ask any harness horseman.

Take a trip to Rosecroft Raceway in Fort Washington and watch the loaded horse trailers move out. They are going to Northfield, Ohio, the Meadows in Pennsylvania and points north. When Freehold and Garden State open in New Jersey, they will be overnighting there, too.

The lowest claimer in Delaware goes for $1,500. The purse for that category last year was $3,000. The owner receives $1,500 for a win or the price of the horse.

The lowest claimer in Maryland is $3,000 and the purse is $1,900 for a nine-horse field. This is the same purse structure that was in effect in Maryland in the 1970s.

I would like to educate the uninformed about the purses, or prize money.

The purse is the fuel that keeps the engine (horse racing) running. The purse money pays the trainer, vet, farrier, feed man, tack shop, paddock fees, shipping, etc. The trainer pays the mortgage on his farm, the payment on his truck and trailer and other varied expenses.

The racing industry has a definite economic effect on the state. There is also a decided domino effect in this business. When an owner has sustained all the losses he can possibly afford, he leaves the business, no matter how much he loves the sport. No owner; no trainer. No trainer; no farrier, vet, feed man, etc. Eventually, no industry!

We must increase the purses if we are to revitalize our industry. Everyone is well aware that prices have increased dramatically since the 1970s. Expenses have increased but income has remained the same in harness racing. We don't need an economist to figure this one out. Large purses equate to a better product, renewed interest in the sport and new owners.

We now come to the subject you love to hate -- the dreaded slot machines. We know that the revenue from these devices will increase the purses. The proof is undeniable at Dover and Delaware Park. We know that our handle will at first be cannibalized. We can teach those who come in to throw quarters into a slot and trust to luck that they will have more control over their money if they handicap our horses.

Horsemen will tolerate slot machines only because they are a way of obtaining much-needed revenue. We want slot machines only -- and only at the racetracks. Rosecroft Raceway has experienced first-hand the effect of casinos on horse racing.

During Gov. Parris Glendening's tenure as county executive of Prince George's County, so-called "charitable casinos" were allowed to flourish near Rosecroft. These establishments took in more than $1 billion last year.

A few are within 15 minutes of the racetrack, one within 5 minutes. This last casino was closed in May, 1996, because of financial misconduct and shortfalls totaling more than $500,000.

These "charitable casinos" over which little control is exerted, compete with an industry that adds to the state's revenue, provides jobs and contributes to the state's economy.

Why shouldn't this racetrack, which has been adversely affected by these casinos, be allowed to have slots in order to survive? Our first concern is survival.

Once we are assured of survival, we can revitalize the harness industry in Maryland and become competitive with other states. We could once again afford to hold $100,000 stake races.

Pimlico has the Preakness, a jewel in the thoroughbred Triple Crown. Rosecroft Raceway, until 1995, had a race that was a jewel in the triple crown of pacing.

Maryland has a rich tradition in racing, both thoroughbred and harness. If we don't act soon, our horse racing, like our banking industry, will have moved to Delaware.

Ursula Ayd

Jarrettsville

The writer owns standardbred (harness) horses.

Maryland is a state with a strong tradition in horse racing, both thoroughbred and harness. There are currently two harness tracks -- Rosecroft Raceway and Ocean Downs -- and two thoroughbred tracks -- Laurel and Pimlico -- operating in the state of Maryland.

I point this out because any reader of The Sun might miss the fact that there are harness tracks. Your Aug. 16 article, "State tracks are prospering," ignores the condition of harness racing in this state. The entire article is devoted to thoroughbred racing.

I appreciate the fact that the thoroughbred tracks are located in your market and are currently a larger industry than the harness racing industry. However, the caption stating "tracks are prospering" is obviously inaccurate, as it pertains to only half the tracks in the state.

Where your report states the thoroughbred tracks have a profit, the harness tracks have lost over $1 million for the fifth consecutive year.

Where the thoroughbred track in Delaware did not open until April 13, Dover Downs harness track did open in November and during the onset of slots was conducting its live race meet, which it then extended for six weeks.

Dover's purses increased 700 percent and the race dates increased 15 percent during 1996. During the same period of time, Rosecroft purses remained 15 percent down from last year and its live racing dates were reduced by 20 percent.

Although both thoroughbred and harness simulcast business is up (thoroughbred up 50 percent and harness up 75 percent), the income guaranteed by this does not offset the dramatic losses in-state.

The trend is obvious and harness racing was hit first and hardest. It is being hit by the opening of Harrington Raceway in Delaware with slots, simulcasting and (soon) live racing.

In years past, Harrington ran essentially a short fair meet. With the opening this week with slots, Harrington (like its brother track Dover) will expand racing dates and take more horses from the Maryland tracks, forcing Maryland harness tracks to reduce races and, thereby, reduce the quality of racing.

There are 5,000 people in the state of Maryland who depend on harness racing for their living. There are open spaces on farms that are a direct result of this industry.

Ignoring us and letting harness racing perish eliminates those open spaces and those jobs. We in the Maryland harness industry hope that someone will see that we are here, that we are a part of the state, and would like to continue as such. We need help in order to accomplish this.

Dennis Dowd

Fort Washington

The writer is president of Rosecroft Raceway.

Making more arrests requires cooperation

I was a member of the delegation that traveled to New York to look at that police department's "zero tolerance" initiative. As state's attorney for Baltimore, I remain open to new ideas.

What was reinforced for me during our visit is that there are no simple solutions to complex problems. The most significant outcome of the trip was the knowledge that we must communicate with each other here in Baltimore if we are to positively affect crime.

First, most of the City Council members in the delegation were not familiar with the criminal justice system in Baltimore and thus had no basis for comparisons. Secondly, most of the delegation thought "zero tolerance" meant New York police arrested every individual who violated the law, no matter how minor the offense. That is not the case.

We learned that individuals are initially charged by New York police in three ways: "desk appearance tickets," "criminal summons/citations" and "arrests."

Desk appearance tickets can be issued by police for felonies and misdemeanors. These tickets command defendants to appear at a specified time and place for trial. The "no-show" or "failure-to-appear" rate is about 50 percent.

Criminal summons and citations are routinely issued for most misdemeanor offenses unless the defendant cannot prove identification or has an outstanding warrant. In this category, the "no-show" or "failure-to-appear" for trial rate exceeds 87 percent. . . .

Most actual arrests, therefore, are for felonies. But also arrested routinely are misdemeanor defendants charged with domestic violence, those unable to provide identification and those who have outstanding warrants.

New York currently has more than 300,000 outstanding warrants. A team of more than 400 police officers man the warrant squad on a 24-hours, seven-days-a-week basis.

The Baltimore delegation also learned that legislation was enacted in 1990 authorizing the hiring of 6,000 new uniformed officers in New York.

Additionally, transit police and housing police were placed under the direct supervision of the city police department. After recruiting, hiring and training the 6,000 new officers over the past few years, New York is now reaping the benefit of their added presence on the streets.

. . . The New York legislature and the courts have also assisted in efforts to reduce crime. The state now has mandatory sentences for felony drug offenses and second-time felony offenses. There is no discretion. The state is supporting the effort by building new prisons to house these defendants.

New York prosecutors are under court order to arraign all those arrested within 24 hours and they are legislatively mandated to in- dict all felony defendants within six days.

All agencies within the New York criminal justice system are provided the resources needed to accomplish these objectives. The state of New York, despite the addition of new prison beds, is currently at 138 percent capacity. The problem is expected to worsen.

Another significant factor to consider is that in New York it is the prosecutor, not a police officer, who makes the decision to charge a defendant. The prosecutor is involved at the front end, not weeks down the road.

. . . Although New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the police department take credit for the decline in that city's crime rate, it is obvious that many factors, over time, contributed, to this decline.

The trip to New York was a learning experience. The council members learned that they must routinely communicate with all agencies of the criminal justice system in Baltimore to learn how our system works and how we can all work together to reduce crime.

I also learned that while the police department can have some impact on crime, no agency working alone can have a dramatic effect.

It takes citizens who are tired of having their neighborhoods overrun by gun-toting criminals to enact "zero tolerance" for themselves and their children.

It takes citizens aiding the police in getting guns off the streets and out of the hands of juveniles.

It takes providing information to police to assure the arrest of criminals, and its takes citizens testifying in court when needed.

It takes a governor, legislature, mayor and council working together to assure that legislation and resources are put into place to support the efforts of the police, the courts, jails and prisons.

It takes the concerted efforts of all criminal justice agencies to make the system operate as efficiently and effectively as it can. "Quality of life" is the phrase that has replaced "zero tolerance." That is what we all deserve. We can have it if we all work together. Policies aside, we all want the same thing.

Patricia C. Jessamy

Baltimore

The writer is state's attorney for the city of Baltimore.

Poverty is no excuse for criminal acts

I am a 15-year old girl who has lived in the same Baltimore neighborhood since birth. After reading the July 23 Opinion Commentary article, "Why I must leave Baltimore," as well as the Aug. 10 letter, "Why I'm trying to stay in Baltimore," I feel that I can broaden the perspective beyond Baltimore, the suburbs, and even America.

This summer I was fortunate enough to travel alone to India, where I lived for six weeks with my relatives in Bombay. During that time, I saw a full spectrum of rich and poor. The poverty went past that of the poorest neighborhoods of probably any city (or suburb) in America.

I saw half-naked children who live in tiny huts made of straw playing among heaps of fly-infested garbage. There were people struggling to complete jobs that many Americans would find humiliating in order to provide their children with a meal.

However, living near these people, I did not feel at all unsafe. Their mind-set was to work to their best potential, regardless of how fortunate I might seem in comparison. In this Third World country, I had more peace of mind than I do in the United States. Of course, there is small petty theft everywhere. However, the violence simply was not there.

Growing up in Baltimore gets more and more frightening for anyone, but particularly for young women. These fears not only affect girls but also their families. I feel that the author of the "Why I must leave Baltimore" article was expressing the fears of any family in a society where crime seems to smother us.

From my experience in India, I learned that poverty does not have to lead to crime. I am not implying that the less fortunate people here do not work hard. I am simply saying that we should never make excuses for crime and blame it on poverty. There are people much worse off than many Americans, yet crime is not as large an issue.

The author of the "Why I'm trying to stay in Baltimore" letter said leaving is not the answer and that we should stay and fight. That is fine. I think staying to fight is important. However, justifying the crimes committed in our society by crying poverty will not solve our problems.

I agree that those of us with excess resources should share and give to the less fortunate. But who is to say what a household can afford?

The fact is that there will always be some poorer than others. The only way for us all to be equal economically in our society would be to turn to communism, something I am certainly not in favor of.

Our mentality should not be to blame those who have more, as long as they earned it in a legitimate way.

The focus of those staying to help in our cities should be to encourage honest jobs and opportunities that will boost the quality of people's lives as well as the lives of future generations.

Anjali S. Blob

Baltimore

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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