A smokers’ rights advocate took on the state Thursday, alleging the Department of Health illegally spent tax money lobbying for anti-smoking policies.
Stuart Cloud, 35, is part-owner of three smoke shops, including one he opened last month in Bellevue.
With the help of the Tobacco Institute, Cloud filed a 425-page complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission that details numerous examples of alleged violation of state laws against lobbying with tax money.
At issue is Project ASSIST, an anti-tobacco campaign in 17 states funded by the National Cancer Institute.
The affable Cloud, who has a drawl left over from his Texas boyhood, said he’s being forced to fight anti-smoking efforts that are funded with his tax dollars.
His complaint to the PDC demands a hearing on whether illegal lobbying has occurred.
Cloud said smokers are victims of “puritanical bigotism.”
“The anti-smoking activists think their beliefs are above ours, that they know better,” he said.
The state gets about $1 million a year from Project ASSIST. The money is spent to discourage kids from smoking, help adults stop, and promote smoke-free environments, said Jo Wadsworth, a Health Department official.
Cloud has alleged that up to $200,000 in money was spent on illegal lobbying through a contract with a Seattle public relations firm, the Wiley Brooks Co.
“Garbage,” said Wiley Brooks, company president.
The Tobacco Institute in Washington, D.C., is helping to cover the costs of Cloud’s complaint, including extensive legal research. His complaint lists numerous examples of activities Cloud alleges add up to lobbying.
Examples include goals and policies stated by the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition, an anti-tobacco group that obtained planning, public relations, and training from Wiley Brooks, paid for with Project ASSIST funds.
In April 1993, the coalition stated its first goal is “to advocate for the adoption of ordinances, regulations, legislation and policies to decrease tobacco use….ASSIST funds will be used to empower communities and agencies to adopt tobacco control policies,” according to the complaint.
Other goals included “Develop a letter-writing campaign to the director of Labor and Industries to develop regulations that ban smoking in the work site” and “advocate for enhancing and or strengthening local governmental actions restricting tobacco advertising and promotion.”
This spring, the coalition got $3,900 in Project ASSIST funds to “be used for paid advertising in support of work on the Seattle smoke-free ordinance,” the complaint states.
Wadsworth said the Health Department has not, and will not use federal funds for lobbying.
She drew a distinction between lobbying and public education and advocating good public policies.
Brooks defended Project ASSIST spending, and called the complaint harassment. He would not respond to specific allegations raised by Cloud. “That’s the Tobacco Institute’s game. I’m not playing it.”
Brooks and Wadsworth said simply filing the complaint is a victory for the Tobacco Institute.
“It’s intimidating. It has a very chilling effect,” Wadsworth said. “And it takes time and money to respond to.”
She said the Health Department had to produce more than 5,000 pages of documents demanded by Cloud this summer through extensive public records requests.
The long shadow cast by the Tobacco Institute’s involvement already has chilled some anti-smoking advocates.
Dennis Biggs, a retired Spokane physician, drove across the state in a mobile home and parked himself in Olympia during the 1994 legislative session, working as a volunteer lobbyist for the Tobacco Free Washington Coalition.
“I did it completely on my own, out of my own pocket. And I am not doing it this year. The Tobacco Institute is effective in what they try to do, as far as intimidation.”
The Tobacco Institute has lobbyists in all 50 states, and has been an active warrior against state antismoking policies, especially in Washington, home of the highest tobacco tax in the country.
The state also recently passed a rule that outlaws smoking in work places, except in smoking areas.
Cloud, a veteran of the tobacco wars, battled a smoking ban in the city of Puyallup and said he gathered thousands of signatures in a petition drive against a similar proposed ordinance in King County.
He also keeps petitions opposing state tobacco taxes on the counter of his smokeshops.
“This is my livelihood,” he said.