Tobacco industry activity in Colorado

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The tobacco industry has been pervasively involved in fighting public health efforts to reduce tobacco use in Colorado since the early 1980s. Up until the early 1990s, the industry’s involvement was relatively transparent. Shortly thereafter, however, the industry started making significant efforts to conceal its opposition to in Colorado. The industry has primarily applied its resources to defeat tobacco tax increases, derail efforts to limit public smoking and preserve smoking as a socially acceptable behavior. Tactics include influencing and co-opting state legislative processes, strategic utilization of philanthropy, the application of sponsorships and advertising to fight public health efforts, working to divert funding away from existing tobacco education and prevention programs, camouflaging corporate involvement, engagement of paid consultants and front groups, and extensive media and local policy involvement.

The tobacco industry has fought public health efforts to regulate tobacco at both the state and local levels in Colorado for several decades. Involvement in opposing public health initiatives has grown, but at the same time become less clear to the public. Industry opposition has been highly organized and well funded, and is increasingly carried out on the local level by third parties rather than the industry itself. The industry’s efforts have slowed the progression of public health efforts to address tobacco issues in Colorado, primarily through derailing efforts to enact clean indoor air laws and blocking increases in state tobacco taxes.[1]

"Proactive" legislation

A 1988 Tobacco Institute political strategy document describes how the tobacco industry operates politically in Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and Wyoming. The title, "Proactive Legislation," refers to laws that the tobacco industry drafts and pushes through state legislatures in order to stop public health tobacco control activity at the local level.

Colorado provides an example of how the industry acted in the other listed Western states as well. In Colorado, the tobacco industry noted that widespread sentiment existed for a statewide smoking law, and that even the industry's usual ally, the Colorado Restaurant Association, favored such legislation. To head off this pending disaster, the industry planned to introduce a weak statewide smoking restriction measure "with moderate provisions" that would "institutionalize certain smokers' rights and dramatically weaken one of the strongest statewide GASP organizations in the country." The then-governor of Colorado (2003), Bill Owens, was identified in the document as "a friendly member of the House Local Government Committee (consistently favorable to tobacco interests)" who could "offer a substitute bill with desireable provisions with a good chance of having it adopted and passed out of committee..."

The writer of the memo describes the industry's strategy:

"Publicly, tobacco industry advocates should express the position that NO smoking restriction law is desireable. If pressed, they should acknowledge that uniform regulation throughout the state is preferable to the state of confusion which now exists. Privately, our lobbyists would of course encourage legislators' support of the substitute bill."[2]

Tobacco industry documents on Colorado

Related Sourcewatch resources

External resources


  1. Landman A, Bialick P Tobacco industry involvement in Colorado Report. June 30, 2004
  2. Stan Boman, Tobacco Institute Proactive Legislation Memorandum. June 27, 1988. 4 pp. Bates No. TIOK0019819/9822