Boucher: Thank you Kirk for accepting our rendez-vous.
Boucher: May I ask you to introduce yourself?
Kleinschmidt: My name is Kirk Kleinschmidt and I am Vice President of Advocacy for the American Heart Association, Western States Affiliate, which covers California, Utah and Nevada. The mission of the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION is to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
I've been active with tobacco control since 1990, starting with passing clean indoor air ordinances in the East Bay communities of Oakland, Albany, Fremont and others. I've been co-chair of the San Francisco Tobacco Free Coalition for about 7 years. Since 1993, the SF coalition has passed ordinances:
In addition, last year the coalition was instrumental in getting $1 million of the tobacco settlement revenues for tobacco control and prevention programs. Currently, we are working on a tobacco retail licensing measure for San Francisco.
On state issues, I've been involved with the fight to kill various bills to delay or repeal the smoke-free bar law, Prop. 188, Prop. 10, and Prop. 28. In 1996, the then American Heart Association, California Affiliate became a co-plaintiff in the city and county lawsuit brought forth by SF City Attorney Louise Renne against the tobacco industry
First question: One year ago the newly elected governor of California, Democrat Gray Davis, released the TV anti-tobacco ads that had been blocked by his Republican predecessor. One year later the AHA publicly disagrees with his handling of the tobacco settlement money. Can you explain what happened and what is your campaign about?
The American Heart Association, Western States Affiliate board of directors has committed to an advertising campaign aimed at opinion leaders to secure $105 million of the state's tobacco settlement revenues for tobacco control and prevention. The AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION, like the rest of the CA tobacco control community, finds it unacceptable that the tobacco settlement revenues are not funding tobacco control efforts.
We are calling this effort the Respect the Intent Campaign to return the issue back to its roots - preventing tobacco addiction. In addition to advertising, the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION, together with partners like the American Lung Association of California, the American Cancer Society, Americans for Nonsmokers Rights and the AARP, are mobilizing the grassroots to contact Gov. Davis about this issue, lobbying the legislature, and coordinating media advocacy. We have also commissioned a statewide public opinion poll of 600 Californians and found extremely high support for this effort - 84 percent likely California voters agree that money received from the state's tobacco settlement should be spent on programs to help people stop smoking and prevent youth from starting to smoke.
The goal of investing $105 million - about 20 percent of the state's total share of $500 million per year - in tobacco control is based upon recommendations made by the Tobacco Education Research Oversight Committee (TEROC), a legislatively mandated body that oversees California's tobacco control efforts.
The original lawsuit sought to change the way the tobacco industry conducts its deadly business and to re-coup healthcare costs caused by smoking. The lawsuit sought to stop the tobacco companies from targeting minors, misleading the public about the addictive nature of cigarettes, manipulating nicotine levels and engaging in other misconduct. It also demanded hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties.
Because the state's successful legal case was based upon law that held the tobacco industry accountable for its history of lies and deceit, the American Heart Association position is that the revenues should be used to counter the on-going marketing practices of the tobacco industry. The Governor has the opportunity to use a portion of the tobacco settlement revenues to counter pro-tobacco influences by increasing the state's comprehensive tobacco control program by $105 million in the state budget that will be revised in May before it is sent to the Legislature.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California is not currently implementing all of the recommended program components fully. In addition, the money for Proposition 99-funded tobacco control programs is decreasing. Yet the tobacco industry is spending more than $1.5 million a day on advertising and promotions in the state. From 1990 to 1998, the California Tobacco Control Program produced estimated savings of over $8 billion in smoking-attributable direct medical costs and indirect costs together.
This battle is about the tobacco industry. The unrelenting, unreformed tobacco industry remains a powerful international marketing machine that will reinvent itself if unchecked. For example, Philip Morris, the nation's largest tobacco company, is spending $100 million a year on corporate image ads until the public views the company like any other business. This is on top of advertising and marketing budgets for Marlboro and other brands of cigarettes.
To summarize, the key messages in the Respect the Intent campaign are:
Respect the intent of the original 1996 lawsuit
Invest $105 million in tobacco prevention
The public wants the tobacco settlement money to be spent on prevention
The tobacco industry is unreformed
We know what works
The Governor opposed efforts to restrict the tobacco settlement money to anti-tobacco programs and medical services
2. California is often looked upon as a model for tobacco control programs. What are the lessons to be drawn from your dispute with Governor Davis? What is at stake is basically a doubling of the funding allocated to tobacco control in California. How crucial is this increase?
California used to be the model tobacco control program. While we have made significant strides and have implemented many progressive tobacco control laws, the program no longer has the vision it once did. Our hope is that with an infusion of funding, the innovation that the Californian program was known for will return.
As far as lessons to be drawn, it is too early to tell in this battle. In 1996, however, the American Heart Association teamed up with Americans for Nonsmokers Rights Foundation in a hard-hitting advertising campaign on then-Gov. Pete Wilson's illegal diversions of Prop. 99 funds. In that experience, we learned that to be effective we needed to name names and tell the truth - even if it goes against conventional thought of insider politics. In the Respect the Intent campaign, we know that to be successful we must run a campaign that pulls no punches and is firm yet truthful. The campaign need not be negative nor divisive yet we must be prepared to define the issue and not defer to the politicians.
3. One of the most visible and notable component of the TC program in California is the media campaign. In the past -as we have seen- there have been political interferences, ads have been blocked. What is the situation now with Governor Davis? Are new campaigns blocked? Are new ads to be launched? if so, on what themes?
Beyond funding, administration of the current program needs to be improved in a number of ways. The review of the media campaign must be simplified and public health, not political considerations, must be the basis for approving ads. The Davis Administration must speed the approval process; ideally public health officials would determine the content and focus of the ads.
The Tobacco Education, Research Oversight Committee needs to become a true oversight committee, with staffing independent of the Department of Health Services. The evaluation of the California program should be separate from the Department of Health Services and done by an outside entity like the University of California.
4. Tobacco control looks like a permanent and never ending political fight at the local, state, federal, international, level.
Boucher: How do you keep the moral, the energy, the momentum within the AHA? Any clue about what makes the difference between combative and less or non combative ngos?
To keep up moral and energy for the long fight, we must support each other as much as possible, try to get beyond organizational turf and recognition issues as much as possible, share resources and advice about what works, and celebrate the little successes. Within the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION, we are trying to be more strategic in doing what works to reduce prevalence and consumption - increase tobacco excise taxes, create smoke-free workplaces, and fund comprehensive, integrated tobacco control programs.
As far as combative vs. non-combative, leadership is very important. The Executive Vice President of the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION, Western States Affiliate, Roman Bowser, is very supportive of advocacy generally and publicly taking on decision makers who are not doing the right thing. Unfortunately, within other affiliates of the AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION this is not always the case.
5. Let us have a look at the federal level. Do you think tobacco control will be a significant issue in the next presidential and congressional elections? How do you assess the possibility of a new set of regulations before the elections?
On the federal level, the #1 priority of the American Heart Association is to see that Congress passes legislation to get the FDA to regulate tobacco. I am optimistic that this will become an issue in the presidential race. As far as actually happening, we know that the tobacco industry's power on the federal level is very significant so this will definitely be an up-hill battle. I am optimistic that this will happen - eventually
Boucher: Thank you, Kirk, for taking the time to be with us today.
A collection of Boucher's interesting cyber-interviews with people involved in the tobacco control field is located at http://www.tobacco.org/News/rendezvous/rendezvous.html