Doctor leads push against political tobacco money
A Wheeling physician has spearheaded a national effort to pressure lawmakers into rejecting political contributions from tobacco interests.
The powerful American Medical Association adopted for the first time an official stand against legislators accepting tobacco industry money.
Dr. John Holloway, a Wheeling internist and president of the West Virginia State Medical Association, introduced the resolution Wednesday at an AMA convention in Orlando.
"We are asking that candidates for political office and those already in office not accept contributions from people with interests in the tobacco industry," he said.
The resolution carries no strong or threatening language, but Holloway says it sends the intended message.
"This is strictly a voluntary call for responsible action," he said. "We're not looking to coerce anyone - it's just a reminder. I'd like to see our lawmakers remember that a political contribution usually means people want something in return."
The effects of political contributions from the tobacco industry are evident in West Virginia, Holloway said. "Our lawmakers have not imposed an excise tax on smokeless tobacco, and compared to other states, we have a very low tax on cigarettes," he said.
"If tobacco interests were not influencing our lawmakers, we would have higher taxes on these items. The same concept works on a federal level, as well."
California is a state where higher tobacco taxes have reduced the number of teen-age smokers, Holloway said. "California has had experience in this on a state level," he said. Pressure from physicians there has succeeded in limiting some politicians taking political contributions, he said.
West Virginia ranks first in smokeless tobacco use, and second in tobacco smoking, according to state behavioral risk survey data.
"Smoking and tobacco use exacts a tremendous toll on everyone in this state," Holloway said. "I have no way of knowing if tobacco money has more influence here than in other states, but to have the highest use rate of smokeless tobacco and no tax, and be among the highest in cigarette smoking and have very little tax means there is an effect of the tobacco lobby on the Legislature."
Holloway said this is the first time the AMA has ventured into the area of attempting to influence political contributions.
Some AMA members were less than enthusiastic about taking a public stand. "Some people felt that since we are involved in lobbying ourselves, that it would be hypocritical to oppose lobbying from the tobacco industry and try to dictate the American way of political contributions," Holloway said.
"My response was that the motives must be taken into account," he said. "When the AMA lobbies, it is to promote what is in the best interest of public health. When the tobacco industry lobbies, it promotes disease and death."