The tobacco industry is a major political force in Mississippi though lobbying, litigation, public relations, direct campaign contributions, indirect campaign contributions, gifts and honoraria, and entertainment events. The tobacco industry has a centralized political organization that defends and promotes its political market interests in state government. Although the tobacco industry has operated in the open in some instances, it generally works quietly behind the scenes by itself, with allied organizations, and through front groups on state political campaigns.
From 1996 to 1999, 23 legislators received tobacco industry contributions of $500 or more. Of these recipients, sixteen were Democrats and eight were Republicans. In contrast of the receipt of tobacco industry contributions, the mean tobacco score of 6.3, (standard deviation 2,2, n=20) for these legislators also indicated a mild pro-tobacco control bias.
From 1998 to 2000, Philip Morris paid its lobbyist a total of $363,574, which was the highest compensation of all tobacco lobbyists in Mississippi. The second highest compensation from 1998 to 2000 of $121,200 was received by the lobbyist for the Smokeless Tobacco Council.
Due to the continued lobbying power and presence of the tobacco lobby on state government along with anti-tax sentiments among state legislators, Mississippi’s tobacco excise tax remained the 10 th lowest in the country at 18 cents a pack.
The tobacco lobby in conjunction with business allies and a front group that it helped to establish, was able to lobby the state legislature to enact a product liability “reform” bill that substantially raised the standard to prove legal punitive damages, prohibited other retailers from being subject to lawsuits aimed at manufacturers, required a separate trial for punitive damages, and required that plaintiffs be able to seek punitive damages only after winning actual damages.
In 1994, Mississippi was the first state to file a lawsuit against the tobacco industry on behalf of taxpayers to pay for the medical costs of sick tobacco users who received Medicaid. The lawsuit was filed by Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore in league with private attorneys including Moore’s former law school classmate and current friend attorney Richard Scruggs.
In February 1996, Republican Governor Kirk Fordice filed a private lawsuit against Mike Moore in the Mississippi Supreme Court claiming Moore’s lawsuit was illegal because Moore had failed to obtain the permission of Governor Fordice to file the lawsuit. Fordice’s lawsuit was filed at the request of a Philip Morris lobbyist and paid for in large part by the Mississippi Manufacturers’ Association. In a separate lawsuit also filed in February 1996 before the Mississippi Supreme Court, lawyers for the tobacco industry requested that Moore’s lawsuit be dismissed on the same grounds as Governor Fordice’s earlier lawsuit. In March 1997, in separate decisions, the Mississippi Supreme Court dismissed Fordice and the tobacco industry’s lawsuits.
In July 1997, the tobacco industry settled the Medicaid lawsuit with Mississippi. Under the terms of the lawsuit, $3.4 billion was to be paid to Mississippi in the first 25 years, with further payments continuing in perpetuity based on adjustments due to inflation and smoking rates.
Due to subsequent legislation in the Mississippi legislature, funds from this lawsuit were placed in a Mississippi Tobacco Trust Fund to pay for a variety of state health programs.
In October 1997, in a separate legal settlement agreement, $62 million was placed in a separate escrow account and spent over two years to establish a youth anti-tobacco program. The program has been administered by a non-profit corporation known as the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi. Subsequent funding for the program has come from the state legislature.
Spending for the program in the first two years, which was below the $62 million placed in the escrow account, was $17 million in 1999 and $22 million in 2000. The spending in 2000 exceeded the minimum amount recommended by the CDC for the funding of the program.
The Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi administers several programs to curb youth tobacco use including community education efforts with community youth partnerships, school programs, faith-based initiatives, and targeted programs; statewide counter marketing media campaigns aimed at pre-adolescent and adolescent audiences; and surveys and evaluations.
By 2001, surveys indicated that the program was having significant effects on smoking rates. Public middle school students reporting current tobacco use (using tobacco one or more times in the last thirty days) from 1999-2001 dropping 26.7% for all tobacco use, 30.4% for cigarette use, 35.3% for cigar use, and 44.4% for smokeless tobacco use.
Due to the power of the tobacco lobby, state clean indoor legislation has remained very weak. The one major exception was a bill enacted in 2000 that prohibited tobacco use on all school property including teachers’ lounges and at athletic events. Major lobbying for this bill came from youth associated with Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi programs. Specific efforts in this campaign included two major rallies of 1000 and 1600 youth at the state capital in 2000 and individual lobbying by young people of state legislators. Technical assistance on how to properly lobby was provided by the Partnership for a Healthy Mississippi.
Although local government are not preempted from enacting stronger local clean indoor air legislation, as of 2000 no Mississippi localities have enacted major local clean indoor air legislation.