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Influence of the Tobacco Industry on Wisconsin Tobacco Control Policies


The purpose of this report by the Monitoring and Evaluation Program of the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center is to assist policy makers and tobacco control advocates in understanding the role of the tobacco industry in forming state and local policies on tobacco in Wisconsin. These activities in policy-making play an integral role in the level of tobacco use in the state. The late John Slade formulated a public health model of tobacco addiction where the agent (of the disease) is tobacco, the host is the smoker and the vector is the tobacco industry. Slade went on to hold that the environmental conditions, which include the political conditions, laws and regulations either foster the ability of the vector tobacco industry to claim more lives or reduce their toll. The research question is therefore whether the tobacco industry influenced the political, economic and regulatory environment in Wisconsin and if so, how that influence occurred and the nature of its effects.

Based on an examination of primarily tobacco industry internal documents, news sources and government data sources we conclude that the tobacco industry in Wisconsin has played a dominant role in shaping public policy on tobacco through the use of its economic and political power and strategic alliances with influential industries. Tobacco industry policies have contributed to higher than average rates of smoking among young people in the early nineties, higher rates of smoking among young adults than the national average and higher than expected smoking rates among adults in Wisconsin given its socioeconomic characteristics.

This report should increase understanding of the political and economic dimensions of Wisconsin’s tobacco industry and how it influences public policy related to tobacco use. This report describes the structure of the major tobacco companies, their economic interests in Wisconsin and their activities to secure their public policy agenda in regard to tobacco. The report also describes the critical role played by the industry’s primary allies, the tavern and restaurant association, the convenience store association, the grocer’s association and their political agency, the now defunct Tobacco Institute. We also examine the development and efforts of the Wisconsin tobacco control movement regulating the environment and opposing the tobacco industry. Finally, the report examines in detail the history of the tobacco industry’s lobbying effort and political contributions in Wisconsin. Cigarette sales in Wisconsin declined by 15% in the period, 1991-2001. Although sales declined, profits for the tobacco industry substantially exceed those of comparable consumer product businesses. Gross cigarette sales in Wisconsin are slightly less than 400 million packs per year and constitute approximately $1 billion in revenue to the industry. In addition to tobacco sales, Philip Morris, the dominant tobacco company in Wisconsin has operating revenue of $8 billion and profits of over $1 billion from its major subsidiaries Oscar Mayer, Tombstone Pizza and until recently, Miller Brewing in which it continues to own a significant minor share. Philip Morris is also a major buyer of dairy products for its Kraft Cheese division and manufactures approximately half of the cigarettes sold in Wisconsin.

For over 40 years, the tobacco industry has initiated and maintained strong interinstitutional relationships with tobacco retailers, tavern and restaurant operators and a decreasing number of tobacco farmers. This effort has included initiating and sustaining a series of organizations and coalitions for the purpose of mobilizing the “grassroots” of their economic allies in support of the tobacco industry policy agenda. Lobbying, grassroots mobilization, media advocacy, philanthropic gifts to non-profit organizations and contributions to candidates, committees and political parties have been the major tools for influencing public policy. These activities have enabled the tobacco industry to realize most of their specific policy goals.

The tobacco industry and its allied organizations spend considerable resources on lobbying for their policy agenda. Since 1997 the industry has spent over $7.2 million on lobbying the state legislature. They hire former Democratic and Republican legislators and other influential individuals as well as lobbyists who often also lobby for health organizations.

Their influence which stopped or altered these policies have contributed to:

• Higher than expected number of smokers and cigarette consumption given the states socio-economic characteristics (and resulting loss of life and economic burden).

• Among the highest rates of youth smoking in the nation.

• The highest rate of tobacco sales to youth in the nation.

• Higher than average exposure to secondhand smoke in workplaces compared to the rest of the nation.

Despite some changes in statements on intent and attempts to re-position itself as a “new tobacco industry” over the past year, there is no indication that the overall policy goals of the tobacco industry and its primary allies have changed.

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