R.J. Reynolds’ Plan to Spend $40 Million Against Anti-Tobacco Ballot Initiatives Puts Profits Before Life and Health

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Jul. 27 2006

Washington, DC — R.J. Reynolds’ announcement today that it will spend $40 million to defeat state ballot initiatives to increase cigarette taxes and require smoke-free workplaces shows the desperate lengths to which the tobacco industry will go to oppose anything that will reduce smoking, even if it means more people will die as a result. R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies are fighting cigarette taxes and smoke-free laws precisely because they know these measures are highly effective at reducing smoking and its terrible toll in health, lives and money. Their opposition is one of the best arguments why voters across the country should support these initiatives. Voters face a clear choice: Reduce smoking and save lives or protect the sales and profits of the tobacco industry.

While releasing the company’s second quarter earnings results today, R.J. Reynolds’ executives indicated that the $40 million represented the company’s share of what the tobacco industry is spending to fight the ballot initiatives, indicating that other companies are contributing substantial additional sums. The tobacco companies’ willingness to spend huge sums to defeat measures proven to reduce smoking show that they are not the changed, responsible companies they claim to be. Philip Morris in particular has been aggressive in claiming to be reformed and in stating publicly that it no longer opposes smoke-free workplace laws. If Philip Morris is serious about its claims of change, it should publicly pledge not to spend any money to oppose these cigarette tax and smoke-free ballot initiatives.

RJR has been leading the fight to defeat ballot initiatives in Arizona and Ohio that require smoke-free workplaces and public places, and it has joined other tobacco companies in fighting initiatives in California and Missouri to increase cigarette taxes and utilize some of the revenue to fund tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The California initiative would increase the state cigarette tax by $2.60 to $3.47 a pack, while the Missouri initiative would increase the cigarette tax by 80 cents to 97 cents a pack (there are also ballot initiatives to require smoke-free workplaces in Nevada, increase the cigarette tax and fund tobacco prevention programs in South Dakota, and allocate tobacco settlement money for tobacco prevention programs in Florida). The tobacco companies are well aware that voters strongly support cigarette tax increases and smoke-free laws and that there will be more statewide ballot initiatives this November than ever before to implement such measures, which explains why they are prepared to spend so much money to defeat these initiatives.

R.J. Reynolds’ activities to date in Arizona and Ohio show that the company’s millions will be used to fund political dirty tricks and deceive voters. In both states, RJR is trying to defeat the smoke-free ballot initiatives by sponsoring alternative initiatives that claim to restrict smoking when in fact they would allow smoking in many restaurants and other workplaces, roll back existing local smoke-free laws and prevent local governments from passing smoke-free laws in the future. These alternative initiatives are being pitched to voters with blatantly deceptive names such as Arizona Non-Smoker Protection Act and Smoke Less Ohio. It is the ultimate hypocrisy that R.J. Reynolds is trying to use anti-smoking messages to defeat measures that would reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke. R.J. Reynolds’ efforts to defeat these smoke-free ballot initiatives is especially indefensible in light of the recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report that concluded there is no longer any scientific debate that secondhand smoke causes premature death and serious diseases, including lung cancer and heart disease, and that only comprehensive smoke-free policies provide effective protection.

The tobacco companies no longer try to disguise the fact that their opposition to these initiatives is motivated entirely by profit. In its earnings report today, R.J. Reynolds stated that one of the “risks and uncertainties” threatening its future performance and financial results is “the substantial and increasing regulation and taxation of tobacco products.” In discussing the company’s earnings, RJR executives noted that California represents six percent of the U.S. cigarette market and that the California cigarette tax increase could wipe out 2007 profits on a nationwide basis. The tobacco companies also openly acknowledge that smoke-free laws reduce smoking and cigarette sales. In a June 30, 2006 speech, the President and CEO of Philip Morris International, Andre Calantzopoulos, stated, “The reactions of adult consumers to such measures [smoking restrictions] are a mixture of accelerated quitting, a reduction of daily consumption and changes in smoking patterns.”

We urge voters to reject the tobacco industry’s sleazy, deceptive tactics and support these ballot initiatives to reduce smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke.

 

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