Supporters of a tobacco tax slated for the June primary ballot launched the opening salvo today of what is expected to be a multimillion dollar campaign, framing their effort as a battle to beat moneyed "big tobacco" interests.
At a news conference kicking off the campaign, Proposition 29 proponents cast their measure, which would raise taxes on cigarettes by $1 a pack to fund cancer research and anti-smoking programs, as an approach to improve health and save lives.
"It's this simple: A no vote on Proposition 29 supports tobacco companies' strategy of singling out poor people and people of color for addiction and death. A yes vote on Proposition 29 is a vote for better health and live saving research," Joe Debbs of the American Heart Association said, adding: "From our perspective there is no middle ground. You're either with us, or you buy big tobacco's lies."
Supporters marked the official launch of the campaign for the initiative, which qualified for the ballot in 2010, by holding rallies in 21 other locations across the state that featured a bed with the message, "Let's see who's in bed with Big Tobacco."
Jim Knox of the American Cancer Society's California arm said the statewide launch of the campaign was intended to be a "warning" that "big tobacco will say anything, do anything, spend anything to get Californians to vote no because they know its going to stop hundreds of thousands of kids from starting to smoke and it will cost them millions in profits."
Knox said he is expecting to see tens of millions of dollars spent against the initiative, noting that $70 million was spent in a successful effort to defeat an unrelated tobacco tax in 2006. He said the Proposition 29 campaign does not expect to match the spending, but hopes to rely on volunteers and messaging to win passage of the measure.
The campaign against the initiative downplayed the role of tobacco companies in the effort, saying their coalition includes thousands of business, law enforcement and taxpayer groups. They blasted Proposition 29 as a "poorly written, fundamentally flawed special-interest tax measure" in a statement released after the press conference.
"There's no doubt that we all support cancer research. But like high-speed rail, stem-cell research and other ballot-box budget initiatives before it, Proposition 29's good intentions are overshadowed by the fact that California simply cannot afford another billion-dollar government boondoggle to create another wasteful spending program," California Taxpayers Association President Teresa Casazza said in a statement.
PHOTO CREDIT: Proposition 29 supporters demonstrate outside the Capitol on Wednesday, Feb, 1, 2012. Torey Van Oot, Sacramento Bee.