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Tobacco Industry Political Activity and Tobacco Control Policy Making in Texas: 1980-2002


The tobacco industry has been active in Texas politics for over 25 years. It spends money on lobbying, campaign contributions, legislative events and gifts in order to gain favor with the legislature and attempt to control the agenda set for tobacco control efforts.

Political campaign contributions–reported only by Philip Morris–have remained high throughout the 1990s. Philip Morris reported contributing $556,250 to legislative, judicial and statewide candidates between 1988 and 2001. In recent years, their contributions to statewide officeholders and judicial candidates have decreased as their legislative contributions have increased. In each election cycle, 1998-1999 and 2000- 2001, Philip Morris contributed $51,000 to legislative candidates.

The 3 largest lifetime recipients of campaign contributions in the legislature were all Senators: David Cain ($8,250, D-Mesquite), Ken Armbrister ($5,500, D-Victoria), and Chris Harris ($5,500, R-Arlington). The largest recipient of tobacco money from the statewide offices was former Lt. Governor Bob Bullock who received $36,500 from the tobacco industry from 1988-1996.

The tobacco industry has also spent heavily on lobbying, although it is impossible to calculate the exact amounts. When lobbyists’ report their fees to the Texas Ethics Commission, they are only required to report a fee range for each of their clients, not the exact amount that they were paid by each client. For example, a lobbyist would select between the ranges of $0-$10,000, $10-$25,000, $25-$50,000, etc. However, given these estimates, we can determine that from 1993-2001, the tobacco industry spent between $4,660,000-$9,640,000 on lobbyists’ fees to influence the legislature.

Texas’ only statewide tobacco control laws are Senate Bill 55 (by Senator Zaffarini, DLaredo) and House Bill 119 (by Rep. Hirschi, D-Wichita Falls), both passed during the 1997 legislative session. SB 55 is the “Texas Tobacco Law” which establishes strict penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to minors and for minors in possession of tobacco products. The tobacco industry fought heavily against the legislation. The provisions in SB 55 which impose penalties upon minors are controversial among public health advocates because they distract attention from retailers and clerks who sell tobacco to minors. HB 119 is an ingredient disclosure bill, requiring manufacturers who sell tobacco products in Texas to report their ingredients to the Texas Department of Health.

The tobacco industry uses allies like the Texas Restaurant Association, the Texas Retailers Association and the Texas Association of Business and Chambers of Commerce (TABCC) in order to shield its involvement in tobacco control issues. Restaurant owners are mobilized to oppose smoking restrictions and retailers testify against youth access and advertising restrictions. The TABCC opposed the state’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry, with coaching on the issue from tobacco industry lobbyists.

The tobacco industry has partnered with and heavily sponsored the activities of the Texas Civil Justice League (TCJL) in order to enact tort reform legislation which protects the industry from prosecution. In the tort reform and products liability legislation during the 1993 and 1995 sessions, the tobacco industry and TCJL limited punitive damage awards and the rights of plaintiffs to sue the tobacco industry for smoking-related illnesses.

In 1996, then- Attorney General Dan Morales was the third Attorney General to sue the tobacco industry. He settled the case in 1998, prior to the 46 state settlement known as the Master Settlement Agreement. Texas’ suit against the industry resulted in a $17.3 billion dollar settlement. From the money that the state has received as of 2001 ($1.8 billion), only $30 million has been spent on tobacco control programs from 1999-2001.

In 1999, the state legislature deposited $200 million into a tobacco trust fund to be used for statewide tobacco control programs. However, the legislature only allowed for the interest on that money to be spent for tobacco control (about $9 million annually). The Texas Department of Health, charged with developing a tobacco control program with that small amount of money, was required to focus their efforts in East Texas.

The Texas Department of Health comprehensive tobacco control program has been very successful, however, their attempts to secure more funding and expand the program statewide have failed. In 2001, the Legislature only increased funding for the program to $12 million annually. The Centers for Disease Control’s Best Practices recommends that a state with the size and population of Texas should spend between $103 million - $180 million annually for an effective tobacco control program.

Texas’ only statewide smoking regulations, the 1975 Clean Indoor Air Act, sets up minimum standards for smoke-free public places. All of the state’s effective smoking regulations have been passed by local governments. Most of the regulations simply establish smoking and nonsmoking sections in workplaces and restaurants.

In recent years, several communities, including some surrounding the state capitol in Austin and the West Texas town of El Paso, establish 100% smoke-free public places, including workplaces and restaurants. El Paso’s smoking ordinance, passed in 2001, also establishes smoke-free bars, the first ordinance of its kind in Texas.

Beginning with the initiative of a sixth grade student, Lubbock enacted a strong clean indoor air ordinance. The tobacco industry, working with the Restaurant Association and Libertarians, opposed the ordinance. After the city council enacted the ordinance, the Libertarians forced a referendum. Tobacco control advocates mounted a vigorous defense and the ordinance was ratified by voters in May, 2002, with 64% voting for it.

While tobacco control advocates, generally working through the voluntary health agencies, are showing increasing aggressiveness and effectiveness in working at the local level, they are still unwilling to confront the tobacco industry’s allies in the state legislature, which explains their failure to force Texas to mount a strong state tobacco control program despite the millions of dollars made available by the state’s tobacco settlement.

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