Tobacco Industry Political Activity and Tobacco Control Policy Making in Washington: 1996-2000
• After making substantial progress on tobacco control in the mid-1990s, the tobacco industry has stifled tobacco control activities in Washington through a mixture of campaign contributions and legal challenges.
• Political campaign contributions have remained steadily high throughout the 1990s. Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, the Tobacco Institute, Lorillard, Brown & Williamson, and the Smokeless Tobacco Council contributed $362,298 to campaigns in 1996 through 2000 election cycles: $114,123 in the 1996 election cycle, $109,975 in 1998, and $138,200 in 2000.
• From 1996-2000, 92% of these campaign contributions by the tobacco industry were to Republican candidates, party contributions, and soft money.
• The largest lifetime recipients of campaign contributions were Clyde Ballard ($16,830, R-East Wenatchee), William Grant ($7,400, D-Franklin), Dan McDonald ($7,246, R-King), and Pat Scott ($5,490, D-Snohomish). Ballard and Grant are both powerful in the House leadership; Ballard is the Co-Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Grant is the House Democratic Caucus Chair. McDonald was the Majority Leader of the Senate from 1996-1999, and prior to that, he chaired the powerful Ways and Means Committee.
• The tobacco industry has also spent heavily on lobbying; from 1996-2000, the industry spent $1,864,086 to lobby members of the legislature and the state administrative offices. This includes lobbyists’ salaries and perks given to legislators such as holiday gifts, entertainment and meals.
• Washington and its Attorney General, Christine Gregoire, played an active role in the state tobacco trials and subsequent 46 state settlement (known as the Master Settlement Agreement) in 1998. The legislature reserved $100 million of the settlement money for a new Department of Health tobacco control program.
• Department of Health officials and health advocates had requested $26 million to begin the tobacco control program, but, because of pressure from the Republican members, the legislature only allocated $15 million for the first year, about half of what the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for Washington State.
• Attempts to pass local smoking regulations, with provisions stricter than the 1985 Clean Indoor Air Act, have been hampered by an ambiguous legal question about whether the Clean Indoor Air Act preempts local legislation. Puyallup, the only city attempting to pass a smokefree restaurant ordinance, rescinded it after being challenged with an industry-funded lawsuit without seeking a court ruling on the issue of preemption. The fact that the Attorney General’s office has not issued a formal decision on this issue has contributed to the reluctance from local governments. This circumstance has allowed the tobacco industry to stop local clean indoor air regulations.
• Spokane has adopted a voluntary approach to controlling secondhand smoke in restaurants with their Big Air Program. Many restaurants in the City and County of Spokane have become voluntarily smokefree since the program was initiated in 1996. Although city officials initiated their program independently, it is very similar to the tobacco industry’s voluntary smoking regulations through their “accommodation” and “red light/green light” programs.
• The industry has also orchestrated legal pressure to attack the federally-funded ASSIST tobacco control project with allegations of “illegal lobbying” and filed a complaint to the Public Disclosure Commission. While the ASSIST project has ended, the tobacco industry successfully used this experience to discourage health departments and advocates from using the policy process to promote tobacco control.
• Several counties, including King, Snohomish, Pierce and Spokane passed outdoor and color advertising restrictions between 1996 and 1999. These measures abolished all outdoor billboards and restricted advertising in stores to small, black and white posters. The industry supported challenges that overturned these restrictions on the grounds that they were preempted by federal law and a violation of the First Amendment. The industry prevailed in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and the defendants agreed not to appeal in exchange for the industry not demanding that its legal fees be paid. This situation has stopped similar legislation in Washington. Similar laws were upheld elsewhere in the United States and as of early 2001 the issue was under review at the US Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court upholds such laws, Washington authorities may seek to reinstate them.
• Health advocates, who could play a decisive role in anti-tobacco campaigns, have been hindered by the lack of a continuously functioning statewide coalition in Washington. The former group, Tobacco Free Washington Coalition, was funded in large part by a grant from ASSIST. Without ASSIST funding, the statewide coalition could not procure the resources to continue operations. Many advocates limited their efforts to smaller, local coalitions which dilutes their strength as a statewide lobbying force. A new group, Washington Alliance for Tobacco Control and Children’s Health (WATCH), was created in 1998 to replace Tobacco Free Washington. They are a broad-based coalition funded by their member organizations. They lobbied in 1999 to ensure that money from the tobacco settlement went to fund health services and that the Department of Health’s tobacco programs received adequate funding.
• WATCH, together with the Washington Restaurant Association, sponsored Senate Bill 5993 which passed the Senate in March 2001. The bill would ensure more smokefree restaurants, but it has several flaws including exceptions for restaurants where minors are prohibited and the creation of a task force to study ventilation systems. The tobacco industry often advocates ventilation systems to dilute smokefree restaurant legislation and perpetuate controversy around the fact that no ventilation system can completely remove secondhand smoke from an enclosed environment.
• In general, the tobacco industry has succeeded in stalling tobacco control efforts in Washington State. Although advocates, local public health officials, the Department of Health, the Attorney General, and some influential members of the legislature are all in favor of broad-based, fully funded, tobacco control education programs and increased Clean Indoor Air legislation, these advocates have not mobilized the resources necessary to overcome the legal and political impediments the industry has created.