The History of SmokeFree Wisconsin

Wisconsin has a lot of tobacco control victories to be proud of thanks to the grassroots work of organizations like SmokeFree Wisconsin: smoke-free workplaces, falling rates of youth smoking, an increased number of smokers attempting to quit and much more. But the work is not over - tobacco remains the number one preventable cause of death and disease is in the state, and big tobacco continues to develop new ways to attract its next generation of customers.

SmokeFree Wisconsin was a single issue organization whose mission was to promote effective tobacco control policies that will protest nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, prevent the initiation of smoking, especially among children and to ensure that there is a well-funded, comprehensive and effective statewide tobacco prevention program.

The organization later changed its name to "Health First Wisconsin" after the success of the campaign to be more inclusive of all health issues facing Wisconsin residents.

Health First stated:

Health is not something that begins in a doctor's office but instead starts in our homes, schools, workplaces and in our playgrounds and parks. It's in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Viewing health in this way, offers a unique and effective opportunity to improve health before the onset of disease.

At Health First Wisconsin, we believe health should not be determined by a zip code. We strive to ensure everyone has the opportunity to make the choices that allow them to live a long, healthy life regardless of their level of income, education or ethnicity.

Does "Smoke Free" Include Cannabis?

At the time of the SmokeFree campaign (and as of this writing) Wisconsin is not a cannabis legal state for medical or recreational use. The only permitted use is of non psychoactive CBD oil for medical purposes. Therefore marijuana was not addressed explicitly by the organization nor was it necessary.

History & Past Goals

Overview of Control Programs

Constant vigilance is required to make sure that our state’s tobacco control program is funded at an adequate level.

The goal of comprehensive tobacco control programs is to reduce disease, disability, and death related to tobacco use by:

  • Preventing the initiation of tobacco use among young people.
  • Promoting quitting among young people and adults.
  • Eliminating nonsmokers’ exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).
  • Identifying and eliminating the disparities related to tobacco use and its effects among different population groups.
  • CDC recommends that States establish tobacco control programs that are comprehensive, sustainable, and accountable.

Sustaining State Funding for Tobacco Control
Tobacco control programs play a crucial role in the prevention of many chronic conditions, such as cancer, heart disease and respiratory illness. Evidence continues to mount supporting the critical role that comprehensive state and local tobacco control programs play in keeping young people from starting to smoke, increasing the number of people who successfully quit, and decreasing nonsmokers’ exposure to secondhand smoke. Although we know how to address these problems, funding for tobacco control programs continues to be sorely inadequate.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the state of Wisconsin spend between $31.2 million and $82.4 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Wisconsin currently allocates $10.0 million a year for tobacco prevention.

Fund a Comprehensive Tobacco Control Program
In Governor Doyle’s budget address he said, “this is not a budget for Big Tobacco.” Governor Doyle says he will not allow the mistakes of the past to be repeated. Because of different finance rates, the Governor proposed to go back to the 25-year plan that was to be enacted with the master settlement agreement. With the new rates, the refinancing of the bonds should free up $650 million. Governor Doyle plans on directing the $30 million of yearly interest to fund a comprehensive tobacco program.

Provide Smoke-free Workplaces

Smoke-free workplaces, restaurants, and bars protect workers and patrons from the known cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. Every year secondhand smoke kills 53,000 nonsmoking Americans, including 900 Wisconsinites. With statistics like that, it's clear we must reduce exposure to this deadly indoor air pollution in public and work places. The best way to protect the members of our community from the dangers of secondhand smoke is by establishing smoke-free environments.

Smoke-free air activity is taking place all across the state. Thirty-eight Wisconsin communities have local smoke-free air ordinances.

Holding Our Breath For Smoke-free Air

Wisconsin's smoke-free workplace, restaurants, and bars law was signed into law on May 18 by Governor Doyle:

  • A bipartisan group of legislators introduced and approved legislation that will protect Wisconsinites from secondhand smoke in most public places and workplaces. We supported this proposal, which will go into effect July 5, 2010.

Increase Tobacco Prices

Numerous studies show that increasing the price of tobacco is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, save lives and relieve taxpayers of the $2 billion in health care costs caused by tobacco in Wisconsin each year.

Why Increase the Price of Tobacco?
Research shows that just a 10 percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes decreases smoking among adults by 4 percent, especially pregnant women, and among youth by at least 7 percent. Increasing Wisconsin’s excise tax by 75 cents per pack would significantly reduce the number of children who become addicted to tobacco, save millions of dollars in health care costs, and provide nearly $100 million per year in additional state revenues.

Wisconsin’s current cigarette tax of $1.77 per pack is ranked 15th in the United States. Thirteen states have cigarette tax rates of $2.00 or more. Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in Wisconsin, claiming more than 7,300 lives each year and costing the state $2 billion annually in health care bills, including $480 million in Medicaid payments alone. Government expenditures related to tobacco amount to a hidden tax of $594 each year on every Wisconsin household.

Raising the Price in Wisconsin
In an effort to prevent Wisconsin kids from starting to smoke and to help motivate adults to quit smoking, Governor Jim Doyle announced a 75 cent per pack increase in the state cigarette tax during his February 17, 2009 budget address.  Increasing the cost of cigarettes will improve public health for people in Wisconsin by encouraging adults to quit and keeping kids from starting smoking.