Texas Governor Perry Should Stand Up For Kids, Not Big Tobacco

Statement by William V. Corr, Executive Vice President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Nov. 19 2002

Washington, D.C. — We are disappointed that one of Texas Governor Rick Perry's first acts after his re-election was the appointment of former tobacco industry lobbyist Mike Toomey as chief of staff in his administration. We hope the Governor will not let the past employment of his top aide cloud his judgment on important issues facing the state. These issues include raising the tax on tobacco products to help reduce both the state's budget deficit and its smoking rate, increasing funding for tobacco prevention programs, and resisting calls to sell the state's tobacco settlement revenues to Wall Street for a fraction of their value. Governor Perry and other Texas leaders should reject the special interests of the tobacco industry and act to protect Texas' kids and health instead.

It is unfortunate that Governor Perry has chosen as his top aide a former lobbyist for Philip Morris, the world's largest tobacco company and the manufacturer of Marlboro, the most popular brand among youth smokers. In fact, more kids - 55.2 percent of all smokers ages 12 to 17 - smoke Philip Morris's Marlboro than all other brands combined, according to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

Big Tobacco has consistently opposed higher tobacco taxes. Last June, public health advocates welcomed a proposal by state Senators Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, and Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, to increase Texas' cigarette tax by $1.00 from 41 cents to $1.41. The proposed cigarette tax increase is a win-win-win solution for Texas. It's a health win that will reduce smoking among both kids and adults and save lives by reducing tobacco-caused disease. It's a financial win that will raise much-needed revenue to help balance the state budget. And, it's a political win for Texas legislators because 70 percent of Texas voters supported a $1.00 increase of the tax in a poll earlier this year. In short, increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most important public health measures Texas' leaders can enact. Despite this, the tobacco industry-supported group Citizens For a Sound Economy has actively fought the proposal.

Governor Perry should act to reduce tobacco's toll in Texas by increasing funding for tobacco prevention. 28.1 percent of Texas youth currently smoke, and 59,600 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care expenses and productivity losses cost Texas $10 billion a year. By fully funding a tobacco prevention program in line with the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Texas can reduce this terrible toll and save up to $3 in health care costs related to tobacco-caused disease for every dollar it spends on tobacco prevention.

Governor Perry should also reject the Texas Business Association's proposal to securitize all of the state's tobacco settlement. Selling 25 years worth of settlement payments for a smaller up-front payment is a raw deal for kids and taxpayers. This proposal would make it virtually impossible for the state to adequately fund a comprehensive tobacco prevention program in the future. It is a nearsighted approach to the state's budget crunch that will cost taxpayers more in the end. To fix the state's budget gap, Texas leaders should instead enact a higher cigarette tax.

 

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