Nov. 6 2002
Washington, D.C. — More than ever before, voters expressed their strong support for tobacco prevention measures at the ballot box in this year's elections, approving an unprecedented number of statewide tobacco ballot initiatives and sending a clear message to the nation's elected officials: Protect our kids and health, not the tobacco industry. Voters overwhelmingly approved statewide ballot initiatives to increase cigarette taxes, reallocate tobacco settlement money to fund tobacco prevention programs, and protect non-smokers from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke. In addition, candidates who advocated strong tobacco prevention measures during their campaigns triumphed in several key races.
These results demonstrate that Americans' concerns about tobacco is now carrying over into the voting booth, and voters want their elected leaders to protect the public interest and not the special interests of the tobacco industry. Elected officials at all levels should heed the message of the voters, free themselves from the campaign contributions and political influence of the tobacco industry, and enact measures that protect our kids and the public health. Tobacco prevention is clearly a win-win-win solution – a health win that reduces tobacco use and the disease and death it causes, a fiscal win that can help states address the budget shortfalls they face, and a political win that is popular with voters.
Tobacco-related ballot initiatives approved in this fall's elections include:
Florida: by a resounding 71 percent to 29 percent margin, voters approved a constitutional amendment to protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke by prohibiting smoking in restaurants and other indoor workplaces. Approval of this amendment is truly historic, making Florida the first state in the nation to have a voter-approved smoke-free air law. Other states and communities should follow suit and protect the right to breathe clean air.
Arizona: by 66 percent to 34 percent, voters increased the state cigarette tax by 60 cents and dedicated some of the revenue to restore funding for the state's highly successful tobacco prevention program, which has had its funding cut in half in the past year. The rest of the revenue will be used for other health care programs.
Montana: by 66 percent to 34 percent, voters earmarked 32 percent of the state's tobacco settlement funds, or about $9.6 million a year, for tobacco prevention. The vote reverses deep cuts Gov. Judy Martz had made to the program's funding.
Oregon: by 64 percent to 36 percent, Oregon voters on September 17 approved a 60 cents a pack cigarette tax increase, with some of the funds dedicated to tobacco prevention.
We are disappointed that Michigan voters Tuesday defeated a constitutional amendment to reallocate the state's tobacco settlement money to tobacco prevention and other health care programs and Missouri voters, by 50.8 percent to 49.2 percent, defeated a proposal to increase the state cigarette tax by 55 cents per pack and fund a variety of health care programs. However, in both cases, the initiatives were criticized for reasons other than tobacco prevention. In Michigan, criticism of the initiative focused on whether the issue belonged in the state Constitution and whether the independent organizations established to oversee the funds would be publicly accountable. In fact, while she opposed the initiative, Governor-elect Jennifer Granholm supported increased funding for tobacco prevention. In Missouri, voters faced a long and complicated ballot question that only briefly mentioned tobacco prevention.
The measures approved in this year's elections will improve health, save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-caused health care costs. Tobacco taxes have been proven to reduce both youth and adult smoking and increase state revenue. There is also conclusive evidence from around the country that comprehensive state tobacco prevention programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save millions of dollars by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. Studies have also demonstrated that smoke-free environments protect workers and reduce the harm of secondhand smoke, which contains at least 69 carcinogens and is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses.
Winning candidates in several statewide races also made tobacco an issue in their campaigns. Pennsylvania Governor-elect Edward Rendell and Illinois Governor-elect Rod Blagojevich both proposed cigarette tax increases. Texas Senator-elect John Cornyn criticized his opponent for having lobbied for Philip Morris and touted his own efforts to reduce illegal tobacco sales to children. Arkansas Senator-elect Mark Pryor criticized the incumbent he defeated, Tim Hutchinson, for accepting significant tobacco industry campaign contributions.
Voters clearly want their elected leaders to take action on tobacco. Congress must now do its part to curb the tobacco industry's harmful practices by passing effective legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority to regulate tobacco products. The FDA should have the authority to stop tobacco marketing and sales to children and subject tobacco products to the same consumer protections, such as ingredient disclosure, product regulations, and truthful packaging and advertising, that apply to other products. Congress' failure in recent years to even consider common sense, bipartisan bills granting FDA this authority demonstrates the tobacco industry's influence over public health policy. It is time for Congress to break free of the influence of the tobacco industry and act to protect the public health.
The need for FDA authority over tobacco products has never been greater. The tobacco industry is spending more than ever before to market its deadly products, often in ways effective at addicting kids, and it is continuing to deceive the public about the harm caused by tobacco use by aggressively marketing a new generation of so-called "reduced risk" products despite the lack of proof for such claims.
Tobacco use remains the leading preventable cause of death in our nation, killing more than 400,000 people every year. Every day, more than 4,000 kids try their first cigarette. Another 2,000 kids become daily, addicted smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result. Tobacco use costs our nation more than $75 billion a year in health care expenditures, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We know what to do to reduce the terrible toll of tobacco. All we need is the political will to enact the right policies. Voters on Tuesday pointed the way. Now it is time for elected officials to act as well.