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Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back: Tobacco Policy Making in Nebraska



• In 2002, 22.7% of Nebraskans over the age of 18 were current smokers, accounting for approximately 389,000 smokers.

• Since 1995, the prevalence of adult tobacco use in Nebraska has remained about 1 percentage point below the national average, but per capita tobacco consumption in Nebraska has been falling more slowly than the Unites States as whole.

• The tobacco industry has directly been a major political force in Nebraska through lobbying and campaign contributions. The tobacco industry spent over $1,027,000 on lobbying from 1997-2002. The tobacco industry made direct campaign contributions to the members of the 2003- 2004 Nebraska Legislature totaling almost $93,000 over the course of their legislative careers.

• Only 20 of the 49 members of the 2003-2004 Legislature have never accepted money from the tobacco industry.

• The tobacco industry has also worked to increase its political influence in Nebraska by recruiting, often through financial contributions, third-party allies such as the Nebraska Restaurant Association, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce, the Nebraska Retail Grocers Association, the Nebraska Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the Nebraska Retail Federation, the Nebraska Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors and the Nebraska Licensed Beverage Association.

• Despite opposition from the tobacco industry and its allies and the lack of a well-established grassroots tobacco control community, Nebraska was an early leader in passing statewide clean indoor air laws. Due largely to the efforts of state Senator Shirley Marsh, the Nebraska Legislature passed its first clean indoor air law in 1974, only one year after Arizona passed the first law in the nation that required smoking restrictions in some public places.

• In 1979, the Nebraska Legislature passed the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act, which was sponsored by state Senator Larry Stoney. The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act was stronger than similar legislation that was proposed in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts at the same time. The tobacco industry and its allies responded by mobilizing against the implementing rules and regulations for the Act and succeeded in weakened these regulations.

• The Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act was not strengthened for 20 years until 1999 when the Legislature passed a bill that required that almost all state buildings and vehicles become smokefree.

• From 2000 -2003, the Legislature also strengthened the Nebraska Clean Indoor Air Act by requiring that commercial daycare facilities be smokefree and extending its enforcement provisions to include business owners. • From 1999-2004, the Nebraska Legislature has rejected three different attempts by state Senator Nancy Thompson to make restaurants throughout Nebraska smokefree. • Using tobacco settlement money, in 2000, the Nebraska Legislature approved $7 million per year for three years to increase funding for a preexisting state tobacco control program, Tobacco Free Nebraska.

• Due to pressure from tobacco control advocates, the Nebraska Legislature approved a $0.30 cigarette excise tax increase in 2002, but the Legislature was only willing to pass this increase during a budget crisis and no earmark was provided for tobacco control.

• Citing budget concerns in 2003, the Legislature cut funding for Tobacco Free Nebraska from $7 million per year to $405,000, despite several different options for continuing funding for tobacco control.

• In 2003, the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department led the push to pass Nebraska first comprehensive smokefree workplaces ordinances, but due to pressure from the tobacco industry and its allies, the Lincoln City Council passed a weakened and confusing ordinance that exempted bars and allowed separately ventilated “smoking rooms.”

• Tobacco control advocates have made progress in Nebraska, but they have not yet mobilized the political resources necessary to avoid suffering significant defeats at the hands of the tobacco industry.

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