Thompson’s Tobacco Ties Still Raise Concerns
Today's New York Times reports on the continuing story of HHS Secretary nominee Wisconsin "Gov. Tommy Thompson's (R) ties to cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris. With Thompson's confirmation hearing slated for next week, tobacco opponents and antismoking advocates have expressed concern over the governor's relationship with executives from Philip Morris, the parent company of the Miller Brewing Company and Oscar Mayer Foods, which employ 7,500 people in Wisconsin. Thompson went on two Philip Morris-funded international trips and has gathered more than $72,000 in contributions from Philip Morris executives and employees between 1993-2000, the Times reports. In addition, antismoking advocates have criticized Thompson's tobacco policies, including his decision to veto two bills that would have placed more restrictions on smoking. Paul Billings, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association, said, "Gov. Thompson has a pretty well-documented relationship with Philip Morris, and that causes us some concern. As secretary of health, one of the most important issues he will be facing is the horrendous toll tobacco takes on the American public." As governor, Thompson did raise the state's cigarette tax, which now stands at 59 cents per pack. However, Bonnie Sumner, president of the not-for-profit advocacy group Wisconsin Initiative on Smoking and Health, said that the tax is not high enough to discourage young people from smoking. Wisconsin health secretary Joe Leann called the criticism "short-sighted," saying that Thompson has numerous health accomplishments, including adding smoking cessation clinics to the state's health insurance program for low-income families.
Despite the criticism, both Republicans and Democrats in Washington expect Thompson will be confirmed "with little trouble." However, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said he would examine "the governor's views and records on issues like tobacco control." As HHS secretary, Thompson would oversee both the FDA, which has tried to regulate tobacco, and the CDC, which offers guidance to states' antismoking initiatives (Stolberg, New York Times, 1/12).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.