Tommy Thompson Linked to Big Tobacco
Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), President-elect Bush's choice for HHS secretary, has several "well-documented" links to the tobacco industry, particularly Philip Morris, the AP/Baltimore Sun reports. Between 1993 and 2000, Thompson received $100,000 in campaign contributions from executives and political action committees of "major" tobacco companies and their subsidiaries, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. In addition, Thompson made trips to England, Africa and Australia arranged by the National Governors Association and "substantially" funded by Philip Morris through three not-for-profit organizations "created to promote free trade" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 1/11). While in Australia, Thompson engaged in a scuba diving excursion with tobacco lobbyist Jack Lenzi, after which he wrote to Lenzi that he was "especially grateful you agreed to take the scuba diving plunge with me." Following a 1995 trip to Africa, Thompson also wrote to Philip Morris senior vice president Andrew Whist, "I value your loyalty and friendship" (AP/Nando Times, 1/11). As governor of Wisconsin, Thompson has vetoed legislation that would have allowed cities to "impose stricter rules on tobacco than exist in state law," though Thompson supporters "argue" that Thompson "had no choice but to support" Philip Morris, Wisconsin's largest employer.
Thompson has been "criticized" for delaying Wisconsin's participation in the landmark national lawsuit against tobacco companies, and after the lawsuit was settled, Thompson proposed spending only $5 million of the state's $170 million annual share on smoking prevention. Thompson eventually signed a bill that allocated "much more money" for smoking prevention and he approved four separate tobacco tax increases. He also supported a ban on smoking in the state capitol. Bush transition team spokesperson Alicia Peterson said that Thompson "has a record of opposing youth access to tobacco and tobacco products." However, Bill Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said, "His record in Wisconsin raises concerns about his commitment to reducing the toll from tobacco. [N]ow that he has been nominated to lead the nation's top health agency, we're hopeful he will be willing to work with the public health community to address tobacco usage in all its forms" (AP/Baltimore Sun, 1/11).