Who’s smoking what?
There are plenty of things to learn from the recent report on Big Tobacco’s cash investment in California politics, and one of them is the answer to a perennial question about state politicians: What are they smoking?
The answer, it seems, is money.
The report, by the Center for Tobacco Policy & Organizing, a project of the California chapter of the American Lung Association, was released earlier this month. It details—using records from the state attorney general’s office that are easily accessible online—how much lobbying money was spent and how much in campaign contributions were given to California elected officials and candidates on behalf of tobacco companies in the last several election cycles.
It’s eye-opening to say the least. For example, a total of $18,700 was spent on Sacramento County political campaigns in the last election cycle. This money came, predominantly, from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA and the California Distributors Association, which distributes—you guessed it—tobacco products.
In that same period, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Health, more than 73,000 Californians died of causes related to their own tobacco use. That’s not including state residents who have problems due to secondhand smoke.
And it’s not just officials, either. In the November general election of 2010, Philip Morris contributed almost $4 million to groups that were opposed to Proposition 25 and trying to pass Proposition 26 (Prop. 25 eliminated the two-thirds requirement for a budget vote, and Prop. 26 changed some fees to taxes, which do require a two-thirds vote). Both passed, with the net result, according to the study, that it will be harder to get mitigation fees from the sale of tobacco products to cover the costs that using those products incur.
The money spent by this industry—which is wholly devoted to producing, packaging and selling a product that harms consumers—isn’t limited to one party. And, while candidates and elected officials can (and do) take political donations from a variety of unsavory or politically dubious sources, declining tobacco money ought to be a no-brainer. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in California, according to the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
It’s not illegal to buy, sell or use tobacco products, and it’s certainly not illegal for our elected representatives to take money from the tobacco industry. In this instance, it’s only disapproval we have to offer.
We urge readers to make use of the searchable online database of elected officials and candidates who have taken money from Big Tobacco. If your representatives haven’t taken smoking money, thank them. If they have, encourage them to forgo it in the future.
And let’s make those smoke-filled backroom deals a thing of the past.