Prop. 29 Foes Won’t Say the Word “Tobacco”

John Wildermuth
Journalist and Political Commentator

It’s bad enough that political types think that voters are stupid. It’s worse that they depend upon it.

Take that omnipresent TV spot opposing Prop. 29, which would add a buck to the cost of a pack of cigarettes and use the money for cancer research and stop-smoking programs.

That’s the one where the guy in the white lab coat talks about how that plan to get money for cancer research sounded good until he read the fine print.

New taxes, he said in horror. More bureaucracy. No accountability. Tax dollars out of state. Dios mio, why won’t everyone vote “no.”

What’s missing from the ad, though, is any hint that Prop. 29 has anything to do with tobacco, cigarettes or smoking. And you’ll have to go somewhere else to learn that the only Californians who will pay that “$1 billion in new taxes” are those looking to buy a pack of smokes.

The “No on 29” website talks about how the “flawed and poorly drafted measure” doesn’t do anything to deal with the state’s budget problem and “circumvents voter-approved protections for school funding.”

If only the measure was more focused or the current economic times were better, this could be a wonderful thing for California, the opponents seem to say with measured sadness.

“We all believe cancer research is important, but California can’t afford to start a new billion-dollar spending program when we have a $10-plus billion budget deficit and can’t pay for critically needed existing programs like education and health care.”

Gag me.

There are plenty of good reasons to vote against Prop. 29 and the fact that not one cent of the money raised will be used for budget relief or education are a couple of them.

But does anyone really believe that the same tobacco companies that have pumped better than $14 million into the “No on 29” campaign would support – or ignore — a measure that called for the same dollar-a-pack tax on cigarettes but used that money to pay down that state budget deficit they reference so sanctimoniously in their ads?

Well, actually, the consultants who are running the campaign are convinced that California voters are just that ignorant.

California now has the second lower percentage of smokers and cities, counties and voters haven’t been shy about telling those few remaining smokers where, when and even if they can light up.

So opponents campaign against a tobacco tax by never mentioning the word “tobacco,” act as if a levy that will only be paid by the 14 percent who smoke will shake down everyone in California and try to change the subject from smoking to education and the state budget, all the while desperately hoping voters won’t notice until after June 5.

They may be right.

In March, a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 67 percent of likely voters were in favor of Prop. 29, with 30 percent opposed.

A new survey released this week showed support for the cigarette tax has plummeted to 53 percent, with 42 percent of those likely voters saying they’re against it.

And what changed between March and May? Well, it could be the wall-to-wall TV and radio spots that slam Prop. 29 while carefully avoiding any mention of just what it would actually do.

John Wildermuth is a longtime writer on California politics.

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