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Putting Profits Before Kids, Tobacco Companies Spend Big to Deceive Voters and Fight State Ballot Initiatives to Raise Tobacco Taxes

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 07, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This November, voters in California, Colorado and North Dakota will have the opportunity to protect children from tobacco addiction and save lives by approving ballot initiatives that increase state tobacco taxes in a meaningful way. To do so, however, voters will need to reject multi-million dollar campaigns tobacco companies are waging to deceive them and defeat these measures.

The tobacco companies’ opposition to these initiatives shows the industry hasn’t changed and can’t be taken seriously when they say they don’t want kids to smoke. The companies are fighting these initiatives for one simple reason: They know that a significant increase in the tobacco tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids. The huge sums they are spending against these initiatives represent an investment to preserve the pipeline of kids the industry needs to survive.

  • In California, tobacco companies, led by Altria/Philip Morris and Reynolds American/R.J. Reynolds, have already poured over $37 million to defeat an initiative (Prop 56) to raise the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack and no doubt will spend much more to wage their disinformation campaign.

  • In Colorado, the industry is preparing to spend millions to defeat a ballot measure to raise the tobacco tax by $1.75 per pack.

  • In North Dakota, Altria and Reynolds American/R.J. Reynolds have dumped more than $860,000 to fight the proposed $1.76 tobacco tax increase, dwarfing the amount raised by proponents.

Of course, the tobacco companies hide the real reason for their opposition behind front groups and deceptive arguments. In California, the companies are trying to mislead voters into thinking the Prop 56 opposition comprises a broad “Coalition of Taxpayers, Educators, Healthcare Professionals, Law Enforcement, Labor, and Small Businesses,” as the group has dubbed its campaign. But, no, it’s the top three tobacco companies, especially Altria and Reynolds, entirely funding the effort. One industry ad charges Prop 56 with “cheating” schools of funding, a claim that has been thoroughly debunked by PolitiFact California, The Sacramento Bee and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The industry even claims the California and Colorado initiatives do not dedicate enough money to programs that prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit. These initiatives do provide robust funding for such programs, and it is laughable that tobacco companies would profess concern for funding programs to reduce tobacco use given everything they do to hook kids and keep smokers from quitting.

The industry’s hypocrisy is underscored by the fact that Reynolds American is supporting a small and ineffective tobacco tax increase in Missouri that would provide far less for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The tobacco companies don’t care one bit about funding tobacco prevention efforts. What they do care about is defeating tobacco tax increases or limiting them to such small amounts that they won’t reduce smoking, can be easily countered with the company’s price discounts and don’t hurt the companies’ bottom line. That’s why Reynolds is spending nearly $3 million to support the Missouri initiative – it increases the cigarette tax by just 15 cents a year for four years and heads off the possibility of a larger increase that actually reduces smoking. Missouri would still have one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country.

By fighting the California, Colorado and North Dakota initiatives – while bankrolling the counterproductive Missouri measure – the tobacco companies once again are protecting their profits at the expense of kids and lives. Voters across the country should reject the industry’s lies and support genuine efforts to protect children from tobacco addiction and save lives.

For more information on the California, Colorado and North Dakota initiatives, please visit:

California: yeson56.org

Colorado: healthyco2016.com

North Dakota: raiseitforhealthnd.com