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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Tobacco Makes a Comeback in California: Even Democrats Are Taking Money From Tobacco Companies

Posted By on Tue, Oct 28, 2014 at 11:43 AM

click to enlarge Big tobacco loves you - FLICKR/ GRAYWOLFX47
The tobacco industry is tightening its grip on California politics in attempt to block anti-tobacco legislation — and its working, according to a new study from UCSF.

Big tobacco has donated some $64 million to various political campaigns over the last six years, including to Gov. Jerry Brown's gubernatorial campaigns. As a result, the anti-tobacco industry is losing steam in California, the study says. 

Researchers point to the facts: California has the 33rd lowest cigarette tax in the nation, and none of the seven bills introduced to increase the cigarette excise tax from 2007 to 2014 even got past the legislature. The shifting priorities of political leaders becomes more apparent as California has yet to regulate e-cigarettes, a new product from which the tobacco industry stands to gain billions. 

Meanwhile, the anti-tobacco industry is seeing its program funding sliced, and it's now half of what it was in 1988. 

Less money spent on controlling tobacco means more smokers in California, according to Stanton Glantz, director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education.

That's sad news when you consider what the California Tobacco Control Program has accomplished in 20 years. In 1989, the California Tobacco Control Program was established after voters enacted Proposition 99, the Tobacco Tax and Health Protection Act.  Since then, the state has seen  the number of smokers cut by 10 percent. Also, the number of packs of cigarettes sold annually dropped from 2.5 billion packs of cigarettes in 1988 to only 951 million packs sold by 2012.

What's more, between 1988 and 2012, the program helped save the state $134 billion in healthcare costs. 

But by 2014, inflation had reduced the program’s spending power to 53 percent of what it was when it started, the study concluded. 

California's decline in smoking has slowed compared to the national rate. From 2004 to 2013, consumption per capita in California dropped 28.2 percent, while national consumption decreased 34.8 percent. In the previous ten-year period, however, the reverse was true, with California consumption dropping 40.8 percent, compared to a national decline of 20.5 percent, the report showed. 

“It’s unquestionably concerning to see that where we once were a leader we are now starting to fall behind,” said lead author Elizabeth Cox, an assistant research specialist at the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. “The resources just aren’t there anymore, and state leaders are no longer prioritizing tobacco control.”

There is hope though, according to Glantz.

“The bright spot in California is clearly at the local level, where political leaders have been putting the public interest above the tobacco companies by enacting strong legislation,” Glantz said, adding to it his hopes that state policymakers follow suit by refusing and returning big tobacco contributions. 



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