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Tobacco Industry Political Activity and Tobacco Control Policy Making in Pennsylvania: 1979-1996


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

The tobacco industry has become a major source of campaign contributions to legislative candidates, state constitutional office candidates, and political party committees. In the 1979-1980 election cycle, the tobacco industry contributed $3,600 to candidates and parties. In 1995-1996, the tobacco industry contributed $65,850 to candidates and parties.

A majority of tobacco industry contributions to legislative candidates and political parties have shifted from the Democratic party to the Republican party. During the 1991-92 and 1993-1994 electoral cycles, the tobacco industry contributed 40% and 38%, respectively, of their legislative and political party contributions to the Republican party. During the 1995-1996 electoral cycle, the tobacco industry contributed 53% 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 is to support tobacco control efforts. The tobacco industry also tends to contribute more money to legislators that have supported the industry in the past. Legislative behavior significantly influenced the level of tobacco industry contributions in 1993-1994, but did not in 1995-1996.

Several health related groups, such as Abington Memorial Hospital, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley Hospital and the Family Health Council are represented by lobbyists who also represent the tobacco industry. This pattern of representation raises the possibility of conflict of interests among lobbyists who represent the tobacco industry and health groups.

Pennsylvania was one of the first states to pass statewide legislation (the 1988 Clean Indoor Air Act) that preempts localities from enacting stronger clean indoor air ordinances than that of statewide law.

Lower Merion township was the first locality in Pennsylvania to ban all cigarette vending machines in 1991. However, an injunction sought by local cigarette vending machine companies prevented Lower Merion from enforcing its ordinance. Although the constitutional merits of the case were never decided, the failure of health organizations and public officials to defend the ordinance and the threat of lawsuits by cigarette vending machine companies stopped the spread of ordinances that completely ban cigarette vending machines.

The creation of the Uptown Coalition represented a significant broadening of the tobacco control community to explicitly include the African-American community, and represented the first time a specific tobacco brand was derailed in 1990. The Uptown Coalition remains active in Philadelphia local tobacco control efforts.

Pennsylvania tobacco control organizations have unsuccessfully attempted to pass statewide youth access legislation. The inclusion of preemption in statewide youth access legislation has divided the Pennsylvania tobacco control community.

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