Over his political career Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) has consistently carried the tobacco industry’s water, denying the dangers of cigarettes, opposing government regulation, and slashing smoking cessation efforts. In return, they rewarded him with more than $100,000 in campaign donations. In 2000, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN), then running for an open U.S. House seat, came out against a proposed settlement between government and the tobacco industry, calling it “big government.” In a shocking editorial, he wrote: “Time for a quick reality check. Despite the hysteria from the political class and the media, smoking doesn’t kill.” Pence acknowledged that smoking is not “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.” He warned of a slippery-slope in which government would soon seek to discourage fatty foods, caffeine, and SUVs.
In a debate that September, his Democratic opponent pressed him on the suggestion that smoking does not cause cancer and noted his contributions from tobacco companies. According to the Indianapolis Star’s coverage of the exchange, “Pence clarified that he wrote that there was no causal link medically identifying smoking as causing lung cancer.” While cigarette manufacturers might have been still claiming that there was not causal link between smoking and lung cancer, medical science had settled the question years earlier. A landmark report by the U.S. Surgeon General had documented the link — in 1964.
After the debate, the paper reported, Pence acknowledged he had received an estimated $5,000 and $10,000 in contributions from tobacco companies. His actual total was already at least $13,000 in contributions from the political action committees for Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and US Tobacco, according to Political MoneyLine data reviewed by ThinkProgress. A May 2000 letter from the Reynolds PAC to Pence, now available in the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents archive archives, conveyed a $1,000 check and praised his “position on issues important to our company.”
This was only the beginning. Over his time in Congress, he would receive at least $39,000 from R.J. Reynolds and more than $60,000 from the National Association of Convenience Stores, which heavily relies on tobacco sales.
Indeed, Pence’s now-defunct family business, Kiel Bros. Oil, operated a chain of more than 200 cigarette and gasoline convenience stores. Pence’s financial disclosures from 2000 to 2003 noted six-figure holdings and at least $15,000 in annual income from the company. The stores, which operated under the name “Tobacco Road,” closed in 2004 in the face of higher cigarette taxes and more online tobacco sales.
In 2009, Pence was one of just 97 people in the U.S. House of Representatives to vote 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.
And Indiana’s public health has paid the price. In 2015, Pence signed a law making it easier to create cigar bars in the state. And his administration slashed the already small amount of the tobacco tax and settlement money available for smoking prevention and cessation in 2013, well below the CDC’s recommended levels. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, “Funding for Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation was down to $8 million per year when Pence took office in January 2013. And within his first week, the Pence administration slashed the agency’s budget to $5 million.”
Indiana now has the highest adult smoking rates of any state in the industrial midwest region and the seventh highest smoking rate in the nation. With among the lowest tobacco taxes of any state, public health experts warn the state is “really in bad shape.” Indeed 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.”
Pence rejected a plan put forth by his fellow Republicans in the state legislature in February that would have raised the state cigarette tax by 5 cents a pack to fund tranportation, saying “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.”
This post has been updated to include information about Pence’s former connection to the Tobacco Road cigarette and gasoline convenience store chain.