Blowing Smoke Out of the Bayou: The Battle for Tobacco Control in Louisiana

Image of Smoking CigaretteThe tobacco industry’s role in Louisiana tobacco control policy is detailed in a new report by Tanner Wakefield, BA and Stanton Glantz, PhD, for the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

Louisiana consistently ranks near last for health and smoking in the United States, with above average smoking prevalence for both adults and youth.  The researchers detail the tobacco industry’s domination of tobacco control policymaking in the state from the 1970s to the 1990s. The industry had a formidable presence, hiring powerful and well-connected lobbyists, deploying campaign contributions, and forming alliances to block clean air laws, tobacco taxes and strong youth access laws while enacting industry-favored changes to tort law in the 1980s and 1990s. The tobacco industry gave state and local candidates in Louisiana nearly $2.2 million in 2019 dollars ($1.6 million current dollars) from 1983 to 2015. 

The tobacco industry has prevented or limited the effectiveness of tobacco control in Louisiana. It helped secure legislation in 1988 removing liability for harm caused by “inherently dangerous products” following a 1986 Louisiana Supreme Court ruling that businesses were liable for inherently dangerous products, as well as preventing passage of 61 clean indoor air bills between 1970 and 1993. Most localities also failed to pass meaningful legislation, considering 16 ordinances and passing 8 between 1990 and 1992, mostly to limit smoking in municipal buildings. Louisiana lawmakers only passed cigarette pack tax increases in 1984 and 1990 despite rolling budget crises in the 1980s and early 1990s; none of the money went to tobacco control.  In 1992, the Tobacco Institute helped repeal a local cigarette tax adopted by the City of New Orleans in 1984. Louisiana was one of five states that still allowed tobacco product sales to minors until 1991.

Poor youth access compliance jeopardized state funding under the 1992 federal government Synar Amendment, which led the State Legislature to adopt a new licensing and enforcement system for tobacco sellers in 1997 that brought Louisiana from one of the highest violation rates of sales to minors to one of the lowest nationally by 1999. Louisiana incorporated e-cigarettes into youth access laws for tobacco products in 2014. 

In 1996, Louisiana became the sixth state of over 40 to sue the tobacco industry, part of a series of lawsuits by state attorneys general to recoup Medicaid funds lost treating tobacco-related illnesses that culminated in the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).. Louisiana’s involvement enabled a settlement in 1996 with Ligget and Meyers, providing states access to internal tobacco industry documents and information critical to securing the MSA. Louisiana Lawmakers placed approximately 70% of their state’s MSA settlement reward into protected trusts for health and education initiatives. 

While smoking prevalence has declined in Louisiana because of concerted efforts by health and tobacco control proponents, the spread between Louisiana and the rest of the nation regarding usage is worsening. Advocates must continue aggressively pursuing tobacco control policies to reduce smoking prevalence at a faster pace and save lives.

Stanton Glantz
Stanton Glantz, PhD

Dr. Glantz, the Truth Initiative Distinguished Professor of Tobacco Control, conducts research on a wide range of topics ranging from the health effects of e-cigarettes and secondhand smoke (with particular emphasis on the cardiovascular system) to the efficacy of different tobacco control policies. As the tobacco landscape has changed, Dr. Glantz' work has expanded to include cannabis policy, because of the interactions between tobacco and cannabis.