[The headline of this article has been updated]
Throughout his political career, Indiana governor and GOP Vice President-Elect Mike Pence has received more than $100,000 in donations from the tobacco industry. In return, he disseminated the false claim that cigarette smoke isn’t as dangerous as people think.
“Time for a quick reality check,” Pence wrote in an from 2001. “Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.”
In the op-ed, Pence admitted that smoking isn’t exactly “good for you,” but claimed that two-thirds of smokers do not die from smoking related illness and “9 out of ten smokers do not contract lung cancer.” Pence framed the perceived dangers of smoking as just another propaganda ploy from the government to encroach on the rights of citizens to live how they pleased.
In a political debate when Pence was running for an open U.S. House seat, he was pressed hard by his Democratic opponent on his past comments. According to the Indianapolis Star, “Pence clarified that he wrote that there was no causal link medically identifying smoking as causing lung cancer.”
According to ThinkProgress, Pence was one of 97 people in the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against the bipartisan Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, “which gave the Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate cigarettes and blasted a 2009 bill to expand healthcare for kids as ‘a tax increase on smokers to pay for a new middle-class entitlement.’”
Three years later, Pence ran for governor, again with significant tobacco industry support. Altria/Phillip Morris, Lorillard, and R.J. Reynolds/Reynolds American have combined to contribute at least $63,500 to his 2012 and 2016 campaigns, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Pence’s own state has paid a high price for its governor’s contribution to the spread of cigarette trutherism. Indiana has the highest smoking rate in the industrial Midwest region and is seventh when it comes to the most smokers in the U.S. As the state with the lowest tobacco taxes in the nation, the public health hazard doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon.
…a 2014 article noted that 17 percent of pregnant women smoke — nearly double the national average — and this has been linked to lower birth weights and higher rates of infant mortality. As a result, it noted, “the state spends $28 million a year on health costs for infants born to mothers who smoke.”
Compounding the problem, Pence rejected an effort to fund transportation by raising the cigarette tax in his state by 5 cents.
“I’m very confident that we can meet the needs that Indiana has over the next four years to improve our roads and bridges without raising taxes,” he said.
Smoke up, Indiana.
[This post has been updated]
Featured image: Gage Skidmore (Flickr)