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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tobacco Industry Political Activity and Tobacco Control Policy Making in Wisconsin: 1983-1998


The tobacco industry is a major political and legal force in Wisconsin through campaign contributions, lobbying and litigation.

The tobacco industry is a major source of campaign contributions to legislative candidates, state constitutional office candidates, and political party committees. In the 1987-88 election cycle, the tobacco industry directly contributed $9,079 to legislators and candidates. In the 1995-96 election cycle the tobacco industry directly contributed $41,125.

A majority of tobacco industry campaign contributions to legislative candidates and political parties have shifted from the Democratic party to the Republican party. In the 1987-1988, 1989-1990, and 1991-1992 elections cycles, the tobacco industry contributed 47%, 30% and 44%, respectively, of their legislative and political party contributions to the Republican party. During the 1993-1994 and 1995-1996 electoral cycle, the tobacco industry contributed 51% and 62%, respectively, of their legislative and political party contributions to the Republican party.

A relationship exists between tobacco industry campaign contributions and state legislative behavior. The more money a legislator receives, the less likely he or she will support tobacco control efforts.

Several health related groups, such as the Health and Hospital Association, the Wisconsin Association of HMOs, and the Employer Health Care Cooperative Alliance, are represented by many of the same lobbyists as the tobacco industry. This pattern of representation raises the possibility of conflict of interests among lobbyists who represent the tobacco industry and health groups.

Madison was the first city in Wisconsin to pass a smokefree restaurant ordinance. Middleton and Shorewood Heights, suburbs of Madison, have also passed smoke free restaurant ordinances. Attempts at other smokefree ordinances have failed.

Fond du Lac passed a ban on self service displays in 1991. However, a state circuit court and a state appellate court ruled that a 1985 state law preempts localities from passing more stringent local ordinances regarding minors' access to tobacco.

Tobacco control efforts in Wisconsin have been characterized by a series of isolated initiatives with little structure or institutional support. This failure of the public health community to develop an institutional base capable of following through on victories or retooling from defeats may explain the lack of progress in tobacco control in Wisconsin.

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