Putting Profits Before Kids, Tobacco Companies Spend Obscene Amounts Fighting State Ballot Initiatives to Raise Cigarette Taxes

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 02, 2018

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The big tobacco companies talk a good game about wanting to reduce cigarette smoking, using slogans like “transforming tobacco” and “smoke-free future.” But they continue to do everything they can, and to spend obscene amounts of money, to make sure that smoke-free future never happens.

In the latest example, tobacco giants Altria (parent company of Philip Morris USA) and Reynolds American (parent company of R.J. Reynolds) are spending over $23.9 million to fight ballot initiatives to raise cigarette taxes in Montana and South Dakota. For two states with a combined population of less than 2 million people, the industry’s efforts are like taking a political sledgehammer to these life-saving ballot measures. Their spending has made the Montana battle one of the most expensive ballot initiative campaigns in the state’s history.

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

On Election Day, voters in Montana and South Dakota should reject the industry’s deceptive campaigns and approve these measures to protect children from tobacco addiction and save lives.

  • In Montana (population just over 1 million), Altria and Reynolds are spending $17.5 million to defeat a ballot initiative to raise the cigarette tax by $2 per pack (I-185, the Healthy Montana Initiative). This amounts to $76.40 per child in Montana to ensure future smokers (based on 2017 Census data). The revenue raised by this initiative would fund critical health initiatives, including Medicaid expansion, veterans’ health care, and tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
  • In South Dakota (population less than 870,000), Altria and Reynolds have poured over $6.4 million into defeating a ballot measure to raise the cigarette tax by $1 per pack. This amounts to $30.03 per child in South Dakota.

Of course, the tobacco companies hide the real reason for their opposition behind front groups and deceptive arguments. Despite seemingly innocuous names like “Montanans Against Tax Hikes” or “South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes,” it’s really the top tobacco companies, especially Altria and Reynolds, funding the efforts.

In 2016, the Big Tobacco companies spent over $92 million in just three states – California, Colorado and North Dakota – to oppose ballot initiatives to raise tobacco taxes. Fortunately, voters in California saw through the smokescreen and overwhelmingly approved the $2-per-pack increase, the largest one-time increase in a state’s tobacco tax.

Earlier this year, Reynolds spent nearly $12 million on a ballot campaign to overturn San Francisco’s law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. Voters upheld the law by a 68-32 percent margin.

By fighting the Montana and South Dakota initiatives, the tobacco companies once again are protecting their profits at the expense of kids and lives. Voters should reject the industry’s lies and support these life-saving measures.