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New Federal Program Funding Efforts to Lobby for State and Local Tax Increases

3 min readBy: Joseph Bishop-Henchman

A two-year-old federal government program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) under the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), is popping up with greater frequency in state and local debates over taxes and regulations regarding obesity and tobacco. The program, which awards grants of federal funds, defines its “MAPPS” strategy as:

  • Use Media to promote healthy foods/drinks and increase activity; restrict advertising and employ counter-advertising for tobacco and unhealthy foods/drinks.
  • Increase Access to healthy food/drink choices and safe locations to be active and improve the built environment; reduce the availability of tobacco and unhealthy food/drinks.
  • Use of Point of decision labeling/signage/placement to discourage consumption of tobacco, increase consumption of healthy foods/drinks, and prompt physical activity.
  • Use Price to discourage consumption of tobacco and to benefit consumption of healthy foods/drinks.
  • Use Social support/services to promote tobacco cessation, breastfeeding, and increased activity.

Examples of some of the use of these awards of taxpayer funds include:

  • Delaware’s Executive Office of the Governor received a $1 million grant which they reported they used to advance legislation (seek sponsorship partners, educate policymakers) to raise the cigarette taxA tax is a mandatory payment or charge collected by local, state, and national governments from individuals or businesses to cover the costs of general government services, goods, and activities. .
  • Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health received a $10.4 million grant which they reported in their CPPW status report was used in part to “campaign[] for a 2-cent per ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages (levied on retailers) and came up one vote short in City Council.” They note that they are “now re-exploring whether a local excise taxAn excise tax is a tax imposed on a specific good or activity. Excise taxes are commonly levied on cigarettes, alcoholic beverages, soda, gasoline, insurance premiums, amusement activities, and betting, and typically make up a relatively small and volatile portion of state and local and, to a lesser extent, federal tax collections. on manufacturers and bottlers, which would directly raise the price of sugar-sweetened beverages, is legally possible.”
  • The American Lung Association of Nevada received a $1.4 million federal grant via the Southern Nevada Health District, which they used for “advocacy and policy work,” particularly working for “a tobacco tax increase.”
  • Los Angeles County received a $16 million grant, part of which was used “to work with community coalitions, CBOs, and local officials in a minimum of 10 cities to support the adoption of an ordinance adding a fee to the sale of each pack of cigarettes. The generated revenue will be used to recover the cost of abating cigarette litter from city streets, sidewalks, and other public property.”
  • The American Lung Association of New York received $21,667 in federal grants; in turn, they “lobbied hard for the $1.60 per pack cigarette tax increase.”
  • Jefferson County, Alabama received a portion of a $766,000 federal grant to the Alabama Department of Public Health, which they stated they used in part to “promote the passage of a tobacco excise tax by the Alabama state legislature.”

In short, taxpayer dollars are being used in a number of cases to lobby governments to raise taxes on obesity-related and tobacco products. Whatever one’s view on such taxes, is it appropriate for the federal government to use federal spending to fund efforts to lobby for these higher taxes?

The transparency and disclosure that is bringing this program to light is as a result of it being part of the 2009 stimulus law. However, the CPPW program has recently been put on a permanent basis, with its grant awards expanded from $500 million a year to $2 billion a year in grants, and the transparency provisions expiring. This may change, depending on congressional action, but I expect CPPW will be a growing behind-the-scenes player in state and local excise taxation.