Monday, July 30, 2007

Increasing the cigarette tax is the right thing to do. (One more reason why...)

Last Thursday Governor Doyle held a press conference at the University of Wisconsin Comprehensive Cancer Center where he highlighted key findings from a new report by The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Tobacco Tax Choices for Wisconsin-- Continue Subsidizing Smoking or Save Lives and Save Money?.

Some highlights from the report, the bad news first:

  • Every year 7,300 adults in Wisconsin die from smoking
  • Every year 8,200 more kids become addicted daily smokers
  • Smoking-caused health costs in Wisconsin total more than $2.02 billion yearly
The good news - Wisconsin can take steps to decrease the toll of tobacco for all Wisconsinites by raising the tobacco tax by $1.25. The benefits:
  • Decrease youth smoking by 20.9%
  • 84,000 kids wouldn't grow up to be addicted adult smokers
  • 42,500 current adult smokers will quit for good
The Budget Conference Committee can make this difference for Wisconsin by including a $1.25 tobacco tax increase in their budget. If you haven't already, please make sure you let your legislators know this is important to you!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Smoke-Free Policies in Tobacco Country!

At 7 pm on Monday, July 23, Charleston, South Carolina became a smoke-free city, following Louisville, Kentucky (which went smoke-free on July 1). Both cities have a significant history with the tobacco industry and both are now smoke-free. Both ordinances faced strong opposition from Big Tobacco, but in both cases consideration for the health of the community prevailed.

It is encouraging to think that it is still possible for the rights of working people to be put ahead of the profit concerns of Big Tobacco. Wisconsin's own smoke-free air bill, SB 150, puts the rights of all workers first - including bar and restaurant workers. As we get closer and closer to a vote on this important bill, I hope for the health of our state we can be as brave as Charleston and Louisville and not cave under tobacco industry pressure. Congrats to both cities!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Illinois Signs a Smoke-Free Bill---Hear about it on the Wisconsin Radio Network

Yesterday Illinois became the 22nd state to sign a smoke-free air bill. Click here to listen to the news coverage and an interview of SmokeFree Wisconsin Executive Director Maureen Busalacchi on the Wisconsin Radio Network ( The law in Illinois takes effect January 1, 2008; Minnesota's smoke-free law (signed May 16th) takes effect October 1st, 2007. If Illinois and Minnesota can go smoke-free, isn't it time for Wisconsin? Don't Wisconsin workers deserve healthy work environments too?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Irish Smoking Ban Study -- Refuting a Common Argument

Ireland went smoke-free as an entire country in 2004. Now, three years later, a study by Cancer Research UK found that since the implementation of Ireland's smoke-free law, smoking has not increased in homes, an argument presented by the policy's opposition when it was passed. The policy's opponents argued that banning smoking in all workplaces would result in more smoking at home, thus endangering more children.

In reality, the general public understands the dangers of secondhand smoke, and even smokers themselves accept that it's dangerous to expose others to cigarette smoke's toxic chemicals -- so why would a smoke-free law prompt them to expose their own families to those poisons at higher levels? The study's answer: it doesn't. According to the study, 71% of Irish smokers said the 2004 smoke-free air law had no effect on their smoking habits at home. 22% of Irish smokers reported placing stricter restrictions on smoking in their home after the legislation's enactment.

Smoke-free air policies don't drive people to smoke at home -- they protect workers from secondhand smoke, positively impact an entire nation's health and encourage smokers to quit.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Cigarette consumption in WI is on the rise

Cigarette consumption is on the rise in the state of Wisconsin, according to a report issued last week by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. This is a reversal from earlier years when consumption was on the decline. To what can we owe this reversal? Funding cuts. In 2004, Wisconsin's tobacco control program was cut from $21 million to $10 million. The chart below, released with the report, reveals an obvious correlation between funding and cigarette consumption.

As I'm sure you all know by now, last Tuesday the Assembly Republicans voted to gut Wisconsin's efforts to combat our tobacco burden -- a vote that could mean the number of Wisconsin children who smoke will rise and the incidences of tobacco-related diseases will continue to grow, at enormous costs both emotionally and to businesses and taxpayers.

This is really a no-brainer; how can our Legislature expect to reduce the burden of tobacco in Wisconsin (and subsequently our enormous healthcare burden) if it only funds tobacco prevention and control programs at $2.5 million -- just 8.3% of the CDC recommended minimum level of $30 million per year?

Also, when program funding is combined with an increased cigarette tax, we have a great "one-two punch" against tobacco in Wisconsin. These policies belong together. A $1.25 tax increase alone would keep 84,000 WI kids from smoking. Well-funded prevention programs will help that decline stick and continue. Older youth experienced declining smoking rates from 2002 to 2004, when Wisconsin's program was better funded; however, as the chart shows, those declines reversed when funding for those programs was reduced.

This is no joke. The cost of tobacco is real. Smoking-related diseases kill 8,000 people a year in Wisconsin and cost $2 billion to treat. I hope our legislators put the pieces of the puzzle together on this one and do the right thing by restoring the $1.25 cigarette tax increase and fully funding Wisconsin's tobacco control program.

Last week's report shows why it is so important that the Legislature, in conference committee, approve Governor Doyle's plan to increase the state cigarette and tobacco products tax by $1.25 and increase tobacco control program funding to $30 million per year in order to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Conference Committee announced

It's official: the Budget Conference Committee has been announced:

Judy Robson
Russ Decker
Bob Jauch
Scott Fitzgerald

Mike Huebsch
Kitty Rhoades
Jeff Fitzgerald
Jim Kreuser

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Budget next steps

The final step for the Budget before it reaches Governor Doyle's desk is a conference committee, where representatives from both houses of the legislature will come together to reconcile the differences in their respective budgets. For most issues, this will be a difficult process; however, I think the issues SmokeFree Wisconsin supports offer legislators an opportunity to come together to address both parties' Budget goals.

  • $1.25 cigarette and tobacco products tax increase
    • I hope committee members will look at increasing the cigarette and tobacco products tax as a measure that will not only save lives, but also reduce taxes for Wisconsinites in the long run - 84,000 kids who will never become smokers as a result of higher cigarette prices will mean a lower medical assistance burden on taxpayers for years into the future.
  • Increase the Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funding to $30 million
    • I also hope that some legislators reevaluate their position on Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funding - anti-tobacco programming in Wisconsin has yielded a return on investment of nearly 3-1. Big Tobacco already has a huge financial advantage in our state - without population-specific prevention programs, the WI Tobacco Quitline, local tobacco control coalitions, and other components of a comprehensive tobacco control program, we're fighting with our arms tied behind our backs. Increasing program funding to a level recommended by the CDC will help us better address disparities in tobacco use, begin to make progress in areas currently underserved by the program, keep Wisconsin kids from starting to smoke, and help smokers quit. Those benefits are hard to argue with.
We'll keep you posted as soon as we find out which legislators will be serving on the conference committee and when their deliberations will begin.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Assembly Budget version passes 51-44

With one republican voting against and four democrats absent, the Assembly voted 51-44 to approve its version of the State Budget tonight around 10:00 p.m. Thanks to Greg Bump at the Wispolitics Budget Blog for keeping track of the debate - I was on my way to Wausau when the votes were finally taken.

The vote was (almost) strictly along partisan lines, which we expected. It should be noted as an FYI that the only republican "no" vote (Rep. Jeff Wood) wasn't related to SmokeFree Wisconsin's issues.

The Assembly's version of the budget includes a drastic 75% cut to the current funding level of the WI Tobacco Prevention and Control Program and completely deletes the proposed $1.25 increase in the cigarette and tobacco products tax. It's definitely a let down after our recent success convincing senators to restore the proposed funding for the Tobacco Control program to $30 million and protect the $1.25 increase in the Senate version of the Budget.

Now's a great time to contact your representative and senator and let them know how you feel about the Budget votes so far. Your opinions are important for legislators to keep in mind as Assembly and Senate leaders head into the conference committee.

Oh, how far we've come...

Check out this old Camels ad! It's amazing this used to actually run in magazines and newspapers (certainly not in my lifetime, as I was a child of the 80s, but I'm sure many of you out there can recall ads like this).

The irony of the matter is doctors are now some of tobacco control's biggest advocates, which really makes sense; they have seen the toll of tobacco first hand, treating patients daily who suffer from our nation's number one cause of preventable death. In fact, the Wisconsin Medical Society is one of SB 150's major supporters. Looks like now the doctors' choice is smoke-free air --- and not Camels!

Are they serious?

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released the Assembly Republicans version of the budget yesterday, which they will vote on today with the full Assembly (where Republicans have control 52-47). Like expected, they deleted the provision for a $1.25 increase, leaving the budget without any tax increase at all.

What was not expected was a 75% cut in the tobacco control program funding -- their budget has the program funding at a mere $2.5 million per year!

Obviously, we are appalled at the Assembly's actions; we had heard the program would be funded at $10 million under the Assembly version. We are going to make our voices heard loud and clear that this is not an effective policy for reducing the burden of tobacco in Wisconsin!

We'll keep you updated as more unfolds; the Assembly begins their budget session at 12:00pm today. Remember you can watch the action on or check here at the SFW blog.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

One more reason for a smoke-free Wisconsin

It is amazing to me that there are some people, including legislators, who continue to believe that secondhand smoke isn't harmful. For those out there who need one more study that confirms what we already know about secondhand smoke, here it is:

A press release from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids summarized the results of a new study published in the next issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Basically, the study, conducted by the Multnomah County Health Department and Oregon Department of Human Services, tracked 52 non-smoking employees from restaurants and bars in communities where smoking is still permitted and 32 non-smoking bar and restaurant employees from communities where smoking is prohibited by local ordinance. The study found that employees in establishments that allow smoking are significantly more likely to have detectable levels of the carcinogen NNK, which is known to cause lung cancer and is found in the body only as a result of using tobacco or breathing secondhand smoke. NNK levels increased by 6% for every hour of work.

Secondhand smoke is bad for workers in Oregon and it is bad for workers in Wisconsin. This study is just one more example of the clear evidence that proves that secondhand smoke, which causes cancer, heart disease, and other serious illnesses, has an immediate and negative effect on non-smokers' bodies. How much more information do we need before we do the right thing by making Wisconsin a healthy place for all workers? Once again, It's Time to Breathe Free Wisconsin!

Monday, July 2, 2007

A great job and so many reasons to keep working

Yesterday I went home to my parents' house to celebrate my brother's high school graduation. It was a chance for me to see relatives I usually only see at holidays and re-connect with some of my high school friends' parents. Inevitably, everyone was curious about my life after Wauwatosa. "Where are you working?" "What does SmokeFree Wisconsin do?"

I lost count of how many times I said, "I love my job." Seeing people's reactions to me talking about my work reminded me that I'm lucky to be working in a field I'm passionate about and even luckier to be working with people who contribute to my continued learning on a daily basis. I also think talking out loud about the lives we can save through good public health policy reenergized me for the fight ahead this summer.

My conversations with friends and relatives also resulted in me hearing more stories about the different ways tobacco has affected my community. Wauwatosa has a smoke-free ordinance that covers many restaurants, but exempts bars. My friends' parents described the policy as "inconsistent," "confusing," and "inadequate." My aunt and I got into a conversation about the way Big Tobacco blatantly targets young kids and minority populations. I told her about the latest ploy to hook girls and young women on cigarettes with the Camel No. 9 campaign. It's unbelievable how dishonest the tobacco industry is in its marketing strategies.

I encouraged everyone I talked to yesterday to keep telling their stories to other people and to their legislators - their stories will be one of the reasons Wisconsin goes smoke-free and will provide our senators and representatives with reasons to fund the state's tobacco prevention and control program at a level close to what the CDC recommends.

If you have a story to tell, please visit our Share Your Story webpage and let us know. And please keep telling your story to other people too!

The truth about the tax and Native American reservations

I have read many news articles and editorials that claim that the $1.25 increase in the cigarette and tobacco products tax will fail because consumers will simply drive to Native American reservations to purchase these products. I'd like to clear up this misconception.

People can choose to drive to reservations to purchase these products, but the time and gas money might not be worth it; they'll likely be required to pay the same price as they would at their local corner store. Currently, many Native American retailers on reservation and trust lands collect Wisconsin's tobacco tax and send it to the state. In other words, a pack of cigarettes costs the same whether you're on or off the reservation. The difference lies in how the Department of Revenue (DOR) treats the tax once it has been paid. Wisconsin statutes require that the DOR refund most of the collected taxes back to the tribes. It's a full (100%) refund for packs bought by tribal members and a 70% refund for packs bought by non-tribal members. For other tobacco products it's a 100% refund for tribal members and a 50% refund for non-tribal members. Consumers pay the tax, but the tribes eventually recoup those taxes through the refund system. This way, there's no incentive for Native American retailers to sell non-taxed tobacco products. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau's paper on the cigarette and other tobacco products tax was really helpful in explaining this aspect of the tax in detail.

It should also be pointed out that in addition to the ability of Native American retailers to collect the Wisconsin tobacco tax, the majority of people will continue to purchase cigarettes just as they always have: at the corner store or supermarket where they regularly shop. To read more about research and statistics related to this issue, click here.

An increase in the cigarette tax will work for Wisconsin - the state will get more tax revenue to help offset the cost that smokers incur through Medicaid and other programs, some smokers will decide to quit or cut back on how much they smoke, and fewer kids will start smoking.