The War in the States

Tobacco’s Current Strategy: Use state politicians to pre-empt local smoking controls

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


For decades, Big Tobacco focused its political largesse on the U.S. Congress and the presidency. But by 1988, when California voters passed a tough anti-smoking law despite a $15 million campaign against it, the industry knew it needed a more sophisticated strategy. The solution: Fund front groups of consumers or retailers with no obvious ties to tobacco, and use them to push for state “pre-emption” laws.

Tobacco-backed pre-emption laws appear to be stringent anti-smoking measures. The catch is that these measures are weak and supersede any stronger local restrictions on tobacco.

Pre-emption laws generally succeed when voters believe them to be genuine anti-smoking efforts (as was the case in Maine, for example, where a bill recently passed without any mention of the tobacco industry’s involvement); the laws usually fail when their connections to Big Tobacco are revealed (as in Minnesota, where a leaked memo exposed the role of the industry and turned the tide against its front group). In all, 28 states have now passed pre-emption laws.

The irony is that while the tobacco industry spouts “local control” rhetoric, it is cynically using front groups and statewide pre-emption laws to snuff out genuine grassroots initiatives to control smoking.

Colorado | California | Texas | Minnesota | Michigan | Maine | Vermont

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate