Thursday, December 15, 2005

Common Cents Goes Up In Smoke

I think there are some things that we can all agree, unequivacably, are Bad. We may not always agree on how to fix these things, but we all agree there is a problem. Poverty is Bad. Hurricanes are Bad. Kicking puppies is Bad.


Isn't smoking Bad too?

I haven't met a person yet who thinks smoking is a really, really great idea. Even people I know who do smoke tell me it is the stupidest thing they have ever done, it makes them feel like sick, and dizzy and perpetually unable to breathe. It makes them smell like the bottom of a barroom floor and the money they have spent on cigarettes could have put all their kids through college. Twice.

They all want to quit. Everyone one of them. All of them who have been able to do so say it's the hardest thing they have ever done. I have a friend who is literally dying of cancer. It has crept through her whole body, was found in her spine this summer and moved into her brain this fall. She is currently living in a hospice facility and I wonder every day if this is the day she won't wake up.
But she still smokes.

The following information comes from

In Bexar county, cancer was the second leading cause of death in 2000. An estimated one in three Texans will develop cancer sometime in their lifetime. It is estimated that up to 80% of all cancers may be preventable.

Tobacco related cancers are reponsible for 87% of lung cancers. Tobacco use also contributes Tobacco-Related Cancers. Smoking also associated with cancers of the
mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, uterine cervix, kidney, and bladder. Smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths, is a major cause of heart disease (the first leading cause of death in Bexar County), cerebrovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, and is associated with gastric ulcers.

If we can all agree that smoking is Bad, then why is our legislature doing so little to control it? Yeah, I know. It's a free country and we will never get rid of Big Tobacco but there are certainly things we can do to keep them in check. Some public servants fight for these checks and balances, but many others support Big Tobacco.

Why? When everyone agrees, even smokers themselves, that smoking is Bad, why are certain members of the lege still supporting these tobacco companies?

There is a really good study from the Center For Tobacco Control, Research, and Education about tobacco control policy making in Texas. The document is also 157 pages long so I distilled some of the main points for you.

The tobacco industry has been actively involved in Texas politics for over 25 years. Although their involvement extends as far back as the 1950s and 1960s, they solidified their position in the mid-1970s when Texas passed its first and only state Clean Indoor Air Act. From that time forward, the industry has attempted to buy influence in the legislature, recruit smokers and fund grassroots organizations, ensure that their product and company names are well known to school children and young adults, and defeat any smoking regulations introduced throughout the state. Only recently have substantial tobacco control efforts been sustained to work against
the tobacco industry’s influence. Most of the effective tobacco control efforts have been enacted at the local level by concerned community groups and public health advocates. The state legislature in Austin—a bastion for big money and big business—has not been consistent or committed to passing statewide smoking restrictions or tobacco control programs and public health groups have not been aggressive in pushing the legislature or administration to do so.


The role that tobacco industry campaign contributions play in this inactivity is difficult to determine. Texas has no contribution limits for individuals donors. While corporate contributions from inside the state are technically banned, corporations are allowed to create political action committees (PACs) and funnel money through these sources directly to the candidates. Corporations headquartered outside of the state are under no restrictions to create PACs or even report their donations to the Texas Ethics Commission, the organization which nominally tracks in-state contributions. Because of this situation, it is very difficult to represent
accurately the amount of tobacco (and other corporate) money that goes into Texas campaigns from the out-of-state tobacco companies.


The role of money and campaign contributions in Texas politics is pervasive and the tobacco industry is a large contributor to this atmosphere....The tobacco industry injects money into the system each year in the form of contributions to
legislators, political parties and lobbying expenses.

Now starting on page 12, of this document is an actual Phillip-Morris memo about how they are going to continue to target the Texas Lege:

House: We will always concentrate on the Senate but there are things we can do in the House that will be of major benefit to us. We will continue to cater to the Speaker [Gib Lewis] and his pet projects, as well as to the five or six committee chairs that have and will help us. We must keep in mind that one of these committee chairs will be speaker in 1993. That covers leadership changes, now for specifics.

We will spend $16,000 in Sept. - Dec. 1989 and will request another $15,000 for 1990. We will concentrate on the races for Governor, Comptroller, key Senators, and key House Committee chairs. Where profitable, we will also give to Republican House races because those types are more likely to be “no new taxes” candidates....

Events: In Texas, some events are worthwhile, but the benefits are so much greater with trips and campaign contributions. I give out tickets to PM events and they are much appreciated but don’t have much of an impact. However, we continue to try and develop inventive ways to ingratiate PM with legislators. As one example, immediately upon adjournment of the regular session, we distributed to each of the 181 Senate and House members a copy of The Capitol Story, which is an attractive photographic history of the statehouse. This unusual gift was much appreciated by
legislators and their families. I even got 4 or 5 phone calls to thank us....

Organizations of Elected Officials: We always give to the various caucuses and this type of contribution does buy political clout.

Boiling mad yet? I am.

And remember, this is Phillip Morris ONLY.

Speaking of Phillip Morris only, check out page 137 to see how much good ole PM had donated to Frank Corte's campaign in 1998 and 2000. A total of $1000.00

500 bucks every couple of years doesn't seem like that big of a deal, though. Right?

Except our boy Frank is a pretty cheap date. If you check out the chart on page 19, you will see a list of the 12 most pro Big Tobacco legislatures in 2001. And Frank Corte is on that list.

Raise your hand if you are at all surprised.

Yeah, me neither.

Disgusted, maybe. Furious, definately. But not surprised.

You know what else is Bad? Political sellouts like Frank Corte. The man has run unopposed for so many years that it has allowed him to get away with so many enormously awful, stupid, ridiculous things that it takes my breath away.

Everyone continues to be so surprised that Larry Stallings is running in this race. He is a completely underfunded no-name democrat. But when you look at stuff like this, the real question remains how could he not?


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