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Smoke and mirrors: how Massachusetts diverted millions in tobacco tax revenues
  1. Wendy A Ritch1,
  2. Michael E Begay2
  1. 1University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, School of Public Health, Health Systems and Policy Division, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA
  2. 2University of Massachusetts Amherst, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Department of Community Health Studies, Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Michael E Begay PhD, Department of Community Health Studies, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, University of Massachusetts, 715 N Pleasant Street, 309 Arnold House, Amherst, MA 01003-9304,


Objective: This study examines the politics of appropriating Question 1 tobacco tax revenues in the first budget year after Massachusetts voters passed the ballot initiative in 1992. The initiative increased the tobacco tax on cigarettes by 25 cents per pack and on smokeless tobacco by 25% of the wholesale price.

Methods: Data were collected from newspapers, letters, memoranda, budgets, press releases, legislative floor debates, government documents, legislative journals, personal interviews, and tobacco industry documents that were downloaded from the Tobacco Archives internet site.

Results: During the first budget year, programmes mentioned by the initiative that were not exclusively tobacco related accounted for 27% of total Question 1 expenditures, while 50% of the revenues were allocated for programmes that were neither mentioned by the initiative nor provided any tobacco education, prevention, and cessation services. Only 23% of Question 1 funds were appropriated for programmes that provided exclusively tobacco education, prevention, and cessation services. Question 1 revenues were also used to supplant funding for pre-existing programmes, which was explicitly prohibited by the initiative. The first budget year became the template for Question 1 appropriations in subsequent fiscal years.

Conclusion: Politics did not end after voters passed Question 1. Public health advocates lacked a strategy and budget plan to influence the appropriation of Question 1 funds after the passage of this ballot initiative.

  • Massachusetts
  • Question 1
  • tobacco tax

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  • Reproduced in full with permission from Tobacco Control 2001;10:309–16.

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