Good Start Out of the Gate: Tobacco Industry Political Influence and Tobacco Policymaking in Kentucky 1936-2012
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Good Start Out of the Gate: Tobacco Industry Political Influence and Tobacco Policymaking in Kentucky 1936-2012


Executive Summary

Kentucky, a leading tobacco producing state in the U.S. and home to Brown and Williamson and Commonwealth Brands tobacco companies, has a significant historic, economic, and social heritage tied to tobacco.  Until 2004 tobacco was grown in all but one county in the state, mostly on small family farms.  The significant tobacco industry presence created a historical resistance to tobacco control efforts. 

To influence policymakers, between 1994 and 2010 the tobacco industry contributed $311,614 to Kentucky political parties and individual candidates running for state-level offices, focusing contributions around pivotal elections, with candidates for governor and key legislative leadership being the largest recipients. Additionally, between 1993 and 2012, the tobacco industry spent $9.7 million in lobbying expenditures.   

In 1988, the first statewide tobacco control coalition focused their initial efforts on youth as a noncontroversial strategy to introduce tobacco control issues in the tobacco growing state. Beginning in 1994 state tobacco control advocates worked with state policymakers and tobacco farmers to create the Coalition for Health and Agricultural Development. The coalition set a statewide and national precedent for tobacco control advocates and tobacco farmers working together to address tobacco-related health and economic issues.

In 1994, the tobacco industry used efforts by tobacco control advocates to reduce youth smoking by passing a state law prohibiting youth access to tobacco products as an effective medium to lobby for the enactment of a weak youth access law that included state preemption to prohibit community-level activity to limit youth access to tobacco products. The 1994 legislation also included a provision that required designated smoking areas in government buildings where smoking was restricted. Later, this requirement would dissuade local governments from covering workplaces since government workplaces would be exempt or forced to install expensive ventilation equipment.

Since 1997, the prevalence of youth tobacco use in Kentucky has declined. In 2011, the youth tobacco use rate was 24.1 percent, a decrease from 26.1 percent in 2009. However, in 2011, the prevalence of youth tobacco use in Kentucky (24.1 percent) was still higher than the national average (19.5 percent) and Kentucky was ranked 1st for the highest youth tobacco use rates. Between 2001 and 2010 there were increases in smokeless tobacco use among youth and adults, and in cigarette smoking rates among low socio-economic status adults.

The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement was an important event for tobacco prevention and control in the tobacco growing state. Tobacco farmers in Kentucky had a shift in attitude and were more receptive and willing to work with state tobacco control advocates to use a portion of the state’s Master Settlement Agreement monies for tobacco control programming.

In 2000, state tobacco control advocates secured 2.5 percent ($5.5 million for the first biennium 2001-2002) of the state’s Master Settlement Agreement monies for tobacco prevention and control programming, with most of the funding going to build policymaking capacity at the local level. The local health department tobacco control programs worked to create awareness about tobacco use issues that synergistically worked with state tobacco control advocacy efforts on smoke-free air policies.

Between 1971 and 2012, the state tobacco excise tax had only been raised twice from 3-cents to 30-cents in 2005 and from 30 cents to 60 cents in 2009. While state tobacco control advocates wanted to increase the tobacco excise tax to reduce youth tobacco use, the state tobacco excise tax increase was used to mitigate significant state budget shortfalls.          

Between 2000 and 2012, the state program worked with local health department programs and state agencies, and used contracts with the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville to provide technical assistance in achieving the local program goals and objectives. The state program experienced success in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke through local communities working to achieve smokefree air.

In 2004, state tobacco control advocates successfully enacted the first local smoke-free air ordinance in the state in Lexington-Fayette. The tobacco industry unsuccessfully tried to overturn the law through litigation, and by state legislation to preempt local smokefree air policies. 

State tobacco control advocates used the Smoke-Free Lexington-Fayette campaign as a model to garner public support to protect workers and public health through additional local smoke-free air policies throughout the state. 

Between 2005 and 2012, state tobacco control advocates, led by the University of Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy (KCSP) successfully enacted 35 smokefree policies (22 were comprehensive) to protect 34.1 percent of the state’s population.   

In 2006, state tobacco control advocates successfully pushed for legislation to allow local governments to prohibit smoking in local government buildings without being required to assign designated smoking areas, which allowed state tobacco control advocates to begin strengthening local smoke-free measures to include all workplaces. Local governments had been reluctant to include workplaces in smokefree ordinances since it could not include local government workplaces.  In addition, Governor Fletcher issued an Executive Order to prohibit indoor smoking in state government buildings controlled by the Executive Branch.  For the first time in the history of the state, smoking was prohibited in most state government buildings.

In 2010, state tobacco control advocates implemented the Smoke-Free Kentucky campaign and five-year plan to advocate for a statewide smoke-free air law. In 2012, the smokefree air legislation was voted out of the House Health and Welfare Committee, which represented a significant step forward since previous efforts did not pass in committee. 

Tobacco control advocates should continue to work to protect, strengthen, and pass local smokefree air policies and other tobacco control policies, advocating for the repeal of preemption of local control for youth access, and for increases in tobacco excise taxes.

State tobacco control advocates can further strengthen their efforts by exposing the tobacco manufacturer ties, through campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures, to legislators who propose to threaten the advances that have been made in tobacco control.

State tobacco control advocates should continue to seek higher tobacco excise taxes and for increased tobacco control funding for a sustained tobacco prevention media campaign. 

State tobacco control advocates should build on their successful track record by giving priority to continuing to protect, strengthen, and pass local smokefree air policies and 100% tobacco free schools.

Recognizing the politically hostile environment in tobacco growing state legislatures, state tobacco control advocates should take a strong public position that state preemption of local smokefree air policies is a “deal breaker” for any state smokefree law and pledge to work to kill any such law, regardless of the other provisions. 

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