In North Carolina, Dancing with Big Tobacco at the Inaugural Ball

January 11, 2013

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Big Tobacco has high hopes for North Carolina’s new governor and Legislature – they want to keep funding for tobacco prevention programs at zero and roll back the state’s three-year-old smoke-free law.

So it’s no surprise that the industry is spending big bucks and pulling out all the stops to buy influence.

As the Facing South blog revealed this week, tobacco giant Reynolds American is sponsoring the Gala Presentation and Inaugural Ball for Gov. Pat McCrory, which are being held tonight.  Altria, the nation’s largest tobacco company, is also listed as a “grand benefactor” for the festivities.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Reynolds’ efforts to curry favor.

Facing South reports that Reynolds, its divisions and top executives made more than $1.4 million in political expenditures in the 2012 election cycle.  Much of the money was donated to outside groups such as the Republican Governors Association, which in turn invested heavily in helping elect Gov. McCrory and other North Carolina candidates.

It’s a textbook example of how Big Tobacco spends huge sums to buy political influence, defeat tobacco prevention measures and protect its profits.

It’s also a sad commentary on politics that an industry whose products cause so much death and disease – and that has long marketed these products to kids – continues to wield such political power.   Polls in North Carolina and across the nation show that voters strongly support tobacco prevention funding, smoke-free laws and other measures to reduce tobacco use, but elected officials beholden to Big Tobacco too often vote them down.

North Carolina’s leaders face a clear choice:  Whose side are they on?  Will they protect North Carolina’s kids and health or Big Tobacco’s profits?  Will they follow the will of the voters or give the tobacco industry what it expects in return for its campaign contributions?

It’s time for elected officials to stop dancing with Big Tobacco.