Big Tobacco Cash Floods California to Defeat New Tax

Think Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and special interests supporting him spent a lot in the Wisconsin recall race, at $45 million? Well, tobacco companies spent even more to defeat the ballot measure to raise California's cigarette taxes. How much? $47 million.

The ballot measure, Proposition 29, would have raised California's cigarette tax from its current 87 cents a pack -- half the national average -- to $1.87 a pack. This would still only have been the 16th highest cigarette tax in the country. The revenue created would have financed cancer research and smoking prevention programs.

Ad Campaign Said Tax Money Would Be Spent Outside the State

Some of the ads purchased by the tobacco companies claimed that the measure wouldn't do anything to address California's budget deficit, a red herring since it was never intended to do that. Others claimed that the money raised by the new tax could be spent outside the state and that taxpayers and doctors opposed it.

Supporters of the measure contend that the measure would generate more than $700 million a year for research on cancer and other smoking-related diseases as well as funding California's tobacco cessation and prevention programs, thereby benefitting all Californians.

Opponents of the tax were led by Altria/Philip Morris and Reynolds American, both of which are prominent members of the corporate bill mill, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC has a long history of assisting the tobacco industry, as CMD has reported.

The tobacco companies formed two independent expenditure groups: Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending, and California Citizens Against Wasteful Taxes. Altria gave the groups $27.5 million as of June 5th, while Reynolds American subsidiaries gave the groups $12.9 million.

$47 Million Convinced 17 Percent of California Voters to Change Their Minds

In March 2012, 67 percent of likely California voters supported the measure, while 30 percent did not and 3 percent were undecided.

That was before the $47 million ad blitz by the tobacco industry.

Ballots in front of California voters on Tuesday included the presidential primary, a U.S. Senate primary, some U.S. House primaries, two state ballot measures, and several other district elections. Perhaps because the presidential primary has been decided, only 24 percent of registered voters turned out. Those who did, voted 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent to defeat the measure, according to official unconfirmed results.

California has the second lowest percentage of smokers in the country, so arguably the tax wouldn't have affected most voters. Craig Jespeth, a 43-year-old nurse from Glendale, voted against the proposition because, he told the Associated Press, "I hope we don't get any more taxes. That's pretty much it."

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow summed it up: "All it takes is unlimited corporate money."


californians are not always stupid. This has been a nice exercise of separating $47 mil from those who couldn't find a constructive use for it and giving it to california creatives and media who win no matter who loses. an initiative to tax the living hell out of oil producers, banks and churches ought to bring boatloads of dough from those who don't know how to check their tire pressure or sharpen a knife.

My sentiments exactly! Maybe some cold comfort in knowing there's one sector generating jobs. But it begs the question of why the end product of electioneering/media still holds the public in thrall. And we need to get v. serious about teaching about-to-be-citizens, viz, High School Juniors and Seniors,how to be media savvy, along with personal and economic financial literacy.

You guys are awesome and correct 99.999% of the time however, the amount of money paid to the tax man by smokers is already a lot, in fact it truly represents "taxation without representation". It may not be cool any longer but we pay extra to do it and we cannot do it anywhere. Drinkers can drink in many places and they do pay a "tax" to do so, why don't we raise their taxes? They cause at least as much physical damage to their bodies and they also cause an extraordinarily enormous amount of "collateral", visible and immediate damage and danger to those around them via accidents, murder etc. And whether popular or not, the tobacco industry employs a large population, so??????

California already has the second lowest percentage of smokers, so why did they need to add the tax? I think maybe there might be a closer look into the situation. Right now there is a struggle against smokers who want to quit via methods outside of pharmaceuticals, ecigs. "Anti-smoking" funds go largely to groups who want to STOP smokers from quitting (without using their products). It might be of interest to look more closely into the unholy alliance between the FDA and pharmaceutical drugs.

Because second lowest is still far, far too many. As for e-cigs, the real struggle is against corporate interests who profit by keeping people addicted one way or another.