Backers of a tobacco tax initiative responded today with a trio of ads that seek to undermine the credibility of their tobacco-funded opposition, including two ads featuring cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.
The 15-second television spots began airing in Northern California markets this morning, according to the Yes on 29 campaign. The initiative would add a new $1 tax per pack of cigarettes to fund cancer and heart disease research.
Proponents are trying to respond specifically to an ad featuring San Joaquin General Hospital physician La Donna Porter, who criticized the initiative while wearing a doctor's smock in an ad that aired statewide for the past two weeks. The opposition campaign has raised nearly $40 million so far, nearly all from tobacco firms R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris USA.
In the opposition ad, Porter said Proposition 29 would create a new bureaucracy and allow research funding to flow out of state.
One of the new Yes on 29 ads directly responds to the Porter ad with a screen shot of her, an emphasis on the words "Philip Morris" and "R.J. Reynolds" and visuals of cigarettes. The announcer says, "29 hits them in the wallet."
In another ad, Armstrong wears a "Livestrong" shirt and asks, "Why is Big Tobacco spending millions to defeat Prop. 29?" Three doctors then appear in succession to explain the merits of the initiative, followed by a fourth who says, "Stop Big Tobacco's lies."
In the third ad, Armstrong says, "Who do you trust to save lives?" The ad then features nonprofit backers from groups including the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society.
Proponents thus far have raised $4.2 million, including $1.5 million from the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Jim Knox, a lobbyist for the American Cancer Society, called it "a gigantic David versus Goliath battle."
Despite the Armstrong ads already hitting the airwaves, Knox and campaign consultant Steve Smith were cagey Tuesday about the commercials featuring the cyclist. In a press conference, they referred to "two or three ads" being on the air, but they declined to divulge details about the Armstrong ones and suggested they were unaware what they contained. They focused their announcement on their Porter response commercial.
Knox mentioned that Armstrong would be with the campaign Friday in Los Angeles.
Smith and Knox emphasized two things - that tobacco companies were funding the opposition and that a tax on tobacco would stop kids from smoking because young people are particularly sensitive to price.
When asked why the money goes to cancer research instead of other priorities, such as schools or health care funding, Knox said the Legislature has had opportunities to raise tobacco taxes for the general fund budget but caved to pressure from tobacco companies. He also said voters would not support a tax that pays for the state general fund, suggesting that voters don't trust lawmakers with the money.