Study: Lawmakers Should Reject Tobacco Company Interference

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Oklahoma City – A study published this month in the peer-reviewed journal Tobacco Regulatory Science found most Americans think lawmakers should not trust tobacco companies and should reject their efforts to interfere in the lawmaking process. The study is based on polling of 2,010 U.S. adults in May 2017 by the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at the OU Health Stephenson Cancer Center.

The study found that only 27.4% of Americans think lawmakers should trust tobacco companies to provide accu­rate information and only 9.2% believe they are taking responsibility for the harms of smoking. If a law was written or influenced by a tobacco company or tobacco company lobbyist, only 5.0% of Americans believe lawmakers should “leave the law as it is” while 30.1% think lawmakers should “revise the law” and 35.3% think they should “remove the law and start over.” When asked which type of lawmakers were least likely to be influenced by a tobacco company lobbyist, 41.1% chose local-level law­makers, 10.0% chose national-level lawmakers, and 6.0% chose state-level lawmak­ers.

Health groups have expressed concerns regarding ongoing efforts of tobacco companies to interfere with lawmaking at the state and federal level. Prior studies of tobacco companies’ internal documents show they have heavily influenced laws for over 50 years by creating controversy over established facts, using front groups, and “preempting” local action. Many laws written or influenced by tobacco companies remain in effect today.

Public attitudes toward tobacco company influences in lawmaking.

Lawmakers should allow tobacco companies or tobacco company lobbyists to help write laws:

  • Agree - 19.7%
  • Disagree - 67.3%
  • Not Sure - 11.9%

Lawmakers should trust tobacco company lobbyists to provide accu­rate information on tobacco issues:

  • Agree - 27.4%
  • Disagree - 59.8%
  • Not Sure - 12.1%

Lawmakers should trust tobacco companies as much as they trust other companies:

  • Agree - 32.4%
  • Disagree - 54.6%
  • Not Sure - 12.2%

Lawmakers should refuse to meet with tobacco company lobbyists:

  • Agree - 54.5%
  • Disagree - 31.4%
  • Not Sure - 13.2%

Lawmakers should refuse campaign contributions from tobacco companies:

  • Agree - 70.9%
  • Disagree - 17.8%
  • Not Sure - 10.4%

Lawmakers should refuse campaign contributions from tobacco company lobbyists:

  • Agree - 72.7%
  • Disagree - 15.7%
  • Not Sure - 10.5%

Lawmakers should refuse meals or other gifts from tobacco company lobbyists

  • Agree - 74.4%
  • Disagree - 13.7%
  • Not Sure - 10.9%

“Americans don’t want tobacco companies to have any influence in lawmaking,” said Doug Matheny, lead author of the study and manager of state and local policy at the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center. “In fact, there is strong support for revisiting current laws written or influenced by tobacco companies.”

The study also measured support for 12 current or proposed tobacco control laws. Support ranged from 58.4% for prohibiting menthol flavorings to 82.6% for banning smoking inside all workplaces including restaurants and bars.

Public attitudes toward existing or proposed tobacco control laws.

Ban smoking inside all public and workplaces including restaurants and bars:

  • Favor - 82.6%
  • Oppose - 13.1%
  • Not Sure - 4.2%

Fund programs to help prevent youth from smoking and to help smokers quit:

  • Favor - 81.0%
  • Oppose - 10.3%
  • Not Sure - 7.5%

Ban smoking in cars with children in them:

  • Favor - 80.8%
  • Oppose - 12.4%
  • Not Sure - 5.6%

Reduce nicotine in cigarettes to a level that is not addictive:

  • Favor - 76.2%
  • Oppose - 11.9%
  • Not Sure - 10.9%

Require large graphic warning labels on cigarette packs to better convey the health risks of smoking:

  • Favor - 74.3%
  • Oppose - 18.1%
  • Not Sure - 6.7%

Raise the minimum age to purchase cigarettes to 21:

  • Favor - 72.4%
  • Oppose - 17.2%
  • Not Sure - 9.0%

Require stores that sell tobacco products to post a tobacco quitline sign:

  • Favor - 71.7%
  • Oppose - 15.2%
  • Not Sure - 11.8%

Ban smoking inside multi-unit housing such as apartments or condominiums:

  • Favor - 68.2%
  • Oppose - 23.6%
  • Not Sure - 7.3%

Increase taxes on cigarettes:

  • Favor - 65.9%
  • Oppose - 25.7%
  • Not Sure - 7.2%

Prohibit pharmacies from selling tobacco products:

  • Favor - 62.3%
  • Oppose - 25.3%
  • Not Sure - 11.4%

Prohibit price promotions on cigarettes such as coupons or 2-for-1 deals:

  • Favor - 60.8%
  • Oppose - 27.7%
  • Not Sure - 10.4%

Prohibit menthol flavorings in cigarettes to make it harder to start smoking:

  • Favor - 58.4%
  • Oppose - 26.1%
  • Not Sure - 14.3%

“Public support for effective tobacco control laws is clear,” said Matheny. “Without tobacco company interference, current laws would likely come much closer to reflecting public opinion.”

In 2006, a United States federal court found Altria, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, and other tobacco companies in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, citing 145 acts of racketeer­ing. The tobacco companies sought not only to misinform the public, but also lawmakers. The court ordered the companies to dis­seminate “corrective statements” through news­papers, television, cigarette package inserts, retail stores, and tobacco company websites. After 11 years of legal appeals, publication of the corrective statements began in November 2017.

Using a random split-sample research design, the study found that the proportion of Americans who think “lawmakers should trust tobacco companies as much as they trust other companies” drops from 32.4% for those who had read the corrective statements to 24.4% for those who had not read the corrective statements. Reading the statements did not improve negative perceptions of tobacco companies.

“The more people know about the tobacco companies’ behavior, the less likely they want them involved in lawmaking,” said Matheny. “The corrective statements appear unlikely to improve their public image.”

A copy of the study, including the full survey, is available here.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at the Stephenson Cancer Center is funded by a grant from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). To learn more about the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center, visit



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