Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Tobacco Policy Making in California 1999-2001: Stalled and Adrift

  • Author(s): Givel, Michael S., Ph.D.
  • Dearlove, Joanna, B.A.
  • Glantz, Stanton A., Ph.D.
  • et al.

The tobacco industry remains a powerful force in California politics through lobbying, campaign contributions, public relations, and litigation tactics.

The tobacco industry spent $4.6 million on state level political activity in California during the 1999-2000 election cycle, including $2,234,707 on campaign contributions and $2,427,907 million on lobbying. This is an increased of about 6% ($300,000) compared to the previous election cycle.

Tobacco industry campaign contributions to legislators and legislative candidates, state constitutional officers, political parties, and party controlled committees totaled $1,470,611, a 173% increase compared to $848,635 in 1997-1998, and about the same as the $1,519,624 in 1995-1996, $1,489,904 in 1993-1994.

The tobacco industry continues to favor Republicans over Democrats in making campaign contributions, although the gap is narrowing. In 1999-2000, 58% of campaign contributions went to Republican candidates and committees, down from 81% in 1997-1998.

The largest recipients of tobacco industry campaign contributions in 1999-2000 were Assembly member Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach) $90,000; and Senator Ross Johnson (R-Irvine) $83,000.

The tobacco industry continues to make more campaign contributions to members of the California Legislature than to members of Congress ($10,376 per member of the California Legislature compared to $4,486 per member of Congress). The top recipient of tobacco industry campaign contributions in Congress, Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT), received $34,500, compared to the $90,000 the top Californian recipient received.

Of the 120 members of the Legislature, 33 members accepted no campaign contributions from the tobacco industry (31 Democrats, 1 Republican, and 1 Independent); in 1997-1998, 28 members accepted no campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

The tobacco industry spent $2,592,907 on lobbying expenditures in the 1999-2000 legislative cycle, almost one million less than it spent in the 1997-1998 cycle.

Despite initial optimism that the Davis Administration would reverse the relentless efforts by Pete Wilson’s Administration to undermine and weaken tobacco control efforts, the Davis Administration has opposed substantial increases in funding for tobacco control.

After political pressure from organized health groups, Davis did reverse the Wilson-era policy forbidding media attacks on the tobacco industry. However, Davis was slow to change the cumbersome approval process that Wilson put in place to stifle the program. This situation was aggravated by the sluggishness in appointing new staff members to his administration.

Two health groups – the American Heart Association and Americans for Nonsmokers’r Rights – have challenged Governor Davis to reduce smoking prevalence in California to 10% in 5 years; they estimate that this action will prevent 50,000 heart disease deaths.

Starting in the second year of the Davis Administration, a media campaign by organized health groups focused on pressuring the Administration to begin spending tobacco settlement funds on tobacco control. In 2001, the Davis Administration announced that it would spend from tobacco settlement funds a modest amount of $20 million on a youth anti-smoking program. This is well below the $105 million (20% of the tobacco settlement) that health groups, the state Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee, and the federal CDC recommended.

The Davis Administration has maintained other aspects of the tobacco control program (such as local programs and competitive grants) at the reduced levels established during the Wilson Administration.

During the earlier 1990s, when the California Tobacco Control Program was large and aggressive, smoking was falling in California much more rapidly than in the rest of the United States. This reduction in smoking was credited with preventing 59,000 heart disease deaths from 1989 through 1997. During the later 1990s, after the program was cut back and toned down, this difference narrowed; this effect was associated with 15,000 more heart disease deaths than would have occurred had program effectiveness been maintained.

Since Proposition 10 raised the cigarette tax 50 cents in 1999, smoking has been falling faster in California than the rest of the country.

By February 2001, only thirteen of 62 California local governments that had received $500 million in tobacco settlement funds had allocated any funds for tobacco control efforts. The combined spending of the thirteen counties that did spend funds on tobacco control was about $16.8 million.

On August 21, 2000, a bill to pass fire-safe cigarette legislation was killed in the Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization, which has traditionally been recognized to be sympathetic to tobacco industry positions.

Proposition 37, which would have overturned the court decision of Sinclair Paint vs. State Board of Equalization that found that mitigation fees for polluting or contaminated products (such as the tobacco industry’s products) was defeated in November 2000. Philip Morris was the top contributor to Yes on 37 campaign to overturn the Sinclair decision, contributing $350,000; with the entire tobacco industry contributing $668,000 out of the $2,555,620 spent on the Yes on 37 campaign.

Master Settlement Agreement enforcement by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office resulted in an agreement in 1999 by the R. J. Reynolds Company to restrict the display of advertising and promotional items at booths at auto racing events. In 2000, United States Tobacco agreed not to distribute tobacco coupons in any free newspaper in any university in California. Also in 2000, R.J. Reynolds agreed to mail cigarette samples only to adults and only after they had given prior consent.

While some progress has been made on reversing the setbacks for tobacco control during the Wilson era, particularly because the voters have continued to support increased tobacco taxes, California has not regained the position of world leadership on tobacco control it held in the early 1990s. The program is stalled and adrift. As a result, thousands of people are dying and will die unnecessarily.

Main Content
Current View