Although facing an extremely tough battle and very little resources, George Connolly, through tireless perseverance, got funding for the state's anti-smoking campaign from increased taxes on cigarette sales.
By effectively and efficiently investing in key areas, Massachusetts began seeing dramatic reductions in smoking rates that far outpaced the rest of the country. The CDC used it as a national model. Dozens of other states and countries put Connolly's ads on TV.
Unfortunately, the post-9/11 recession had hit Massachusetts hard. Connolly's anti-smoking program, with its emphasis on prevention, became a fat target. The Romney campaign agreed to restore funding, saying, "It is our view that it is a shame our state leaders mismanaged the budget so that worthwhile programs have been cut."
His success was further crippled, however, when Mitt Romney became governor. Instead of restoring funding to the tobacco-control program, as he promised before taking office, he cut its budget further - attempting to cut it to just $1.8 million. Democrats in the state Legislature balked, overriding the governor and preserving $2.5 million in funding.
"We expected Mr. Romney to come in and restore the tobacco program to its level for the past 10 years and make himself a national hero," said Connolly, now a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he directs the Center for Global Tobacco Control. "But he did the opposite. ... We got the Marlboro Man."
The advocates believed Romney was on their side. After he was elected governor in November, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund announced that Romney's victory was "a win for Massachusetts kids" and that the "outlook is optimistic" that the governor-elect would reinvest in the anti-tobacco campaign.
Unbeknownst to anti-smoking activists, Romney actually had close ties to the tobacco industry - ties that would have been a major negative as a candidate in Massachusetts in 2002, had the public known. He would have been a very tough sell.
Instead of restoring funds to the anti-smoking program, Romney chose to fight for a tax cut for Massachusetts' richest residents. One of his first budgetary moves as governor was a capital gains tax rebate worth $250 million -- enough to fund the tobacco-control program at the level the CDC recommended for more than seven years.
Romney played hardball with the state Legislature on the tax rebate, instructing the Massachusetts Department of Revenue to send notices to about 48,000 taxpayers who might be eligible for it, thereby generating public support for the measure. In the end, about half of the total tax payout went to just 278 wealthy taxpayers.