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Clean Air Now, But a Hazy Future: Tobacco Industry Political Influence and Tobacco Policy Making in Ohio 1997-2007



From 1997-2006 the tobacco industry and tobacco trade organizations contributed $464,700 to Ohio state political candidates and political parties, including $88,400 during the 2005-6 election.

From 1997-2006 the tobacco industry and tobacco trade organizations made 77.2% of their total contributions to individuals and organizations affiliated with the Republican Party.

Starting in 2000, health advocates made attempts to introduce clean indoor air regulations to all public and work places in Lucas County through the regulatory authority of the County Board of Health. These attempts were opposed by forces allied with the tobacco industry, and included legal and legislative challenges. In 2002 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that Boards of Health do not have the authority to regulate tobacco products.

In 1998, the state settled its lawsuit against the tobacco industry through the Master Settlement Agreement, which awarded the state about $350 million per year.

In 1999, Governor Bob Taft (R) formed the Tobacco Task Force to outline a plan for how Ohio would use the Master Settlement Agreement money awarded to the State. This plan specified the formation of the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation to coordinate Ohio’s tobacco control programs and the creation of a trust fund/endowment to fund the Foundation with $1.1 billion in MSA revenue by 2008.

Through 2008 the Ohio Legislature has redirected the majority of the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation’s funding to the State’s general fund. The Foundation has received only 32% of the originally planned funding recommended by the Tobacco Task Force.

From 1997-2006, Ohio has increased the State’s excise tax on cigarettes twice. In 2002 the tax was increased $.21 to a total of $.55 and in 2005 the tax was increased $.70 to a total of $1.25. None of these funds were directed to Ohio’s tobacco control programs.

The Ohio Department of Health has a very small and limited Tobacco Risk Reduction Program that is completely funded by grants from the US Centers for Disease Control that has historically ranged between $1-2 million.

The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation is a government funded independent foundation that is charged with running and coordinating all of Ohio’s tobacco control programs. Due to the redirection of originally planned funding, the Foundation’s annual budgets have leveled off at $45 million, short of the CDC recommended minimum $62 million in annual tobacco control program expenditures for Ohio.

In order to maintain even this reduced level of activity, the Foundation has had to start spending down its principle. Absent a new infusion of funds, it will be forced to cease operations in 2016.

The Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation’s community grants program effort has expanded tobacco control infrastructure throughout the state and accelerated the pursuit of local clean indoor air efforts throughout Ohio.

Local efforts to pass comprehensive clean indoor air ordinances in Ohio produced variable results with some tobacco control successes, such as in Columbus, and some setbacks, such as in Toledo.

In 2005, the American Cancer Society and a coalition of Ohio health groups formed Smoke Free Ohio, a campaign to pursue a statewide comprehensive clean indoor air law through a ballot initiative. The campaign was run primarily by the American Cancer Society and received some criticism from tobacco control advocates for being too hierarchical and insulated.

In response to the Smoke Free Ohio campaign, RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company backed a competing campaign called Smoke Less Ohio, which was a ballot initiative to amend the State’s constitution and introduce an extremely weak state clean indoor air ordinance that exempted bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and bingo parlors. The Smoke Less Ohio initiative would also have preempted future local ordinances that were more strict and overturned 21 local ordinances in Ohio that were already in place.

Health advocates (mainly the American Cancer Society) spent $2.7 million supporting the Smoke Free Ohio campaign and tobacco interests (mainly RJ Reynolds) spent $6.7 million supporting Smoke Less Ohio.

On November 7, 2006, Ohio became the 15th state in the US to go smoke free when the Smoke Free Ohio campaign passed with 58% of voter in favor and the Smoke Less Ohio campaign failed with only 36% of Ohioans in favor.

While the law was enacted in December 2006, enforcement did not start until the Ohio Department of Health finalized enforcement rules, which it did in April 2007. During this delay, pro-tobacco interests worked to create confusion and undermine public support for and compliance with the law. Consequently public confusion and non compliance with Ohio’s new clean indoor air law was common.

The American Cancer Society and other health groups generated a tremendous amount of political credibility when they successfully passed the Smoke Free Ohio initiative by a convincing margin. However, these health groups were nsuccessful in using their new political power along with underlying public support to aid implementation of Ohio’s clean indoor air law and to exert political pressure to restore funding for the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation.

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