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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hartley

California’s Proposition 29 Narrowly Defeated by Misinformation and Sound Bites

It appears Proposition 29 was defeated by less than 2%, according to a page of the web site for the California Secretary of State. The page shows 49.2% in favor of the additional tax. On the other hand, 50.8 % of Californians either were confused by big tobacco’s advertising, or are in favor continuing sales of carcinogens, and resulting deaths, disease and massive health expenses, with much of that expense paid by the public, employers and governments through health insurance payments. The defeat of Proposition 29 is absurd as a matter of logic and good social and economic policy. Therefore, it follows logically that Proposition 29 was defeated because big tobacco successfully used its many talents in deploying money and misinformation to maintain cigarette sales and avoid paying the human and financial costs of the myriad diseases and defects caused by smoking.

The results demonstrate the enormous power of money to buy sound bite advertising to promote themes having little to do with reality or the merits of a particular subject. In this instance, big tobacco ($ 37million) and the Republican Party ($1.5 million) threw big money at maintaining cigarette sales and defeating cancer research. When the measure was first placed on the ballot, it enjoyed enormous popular support. Then, tobacco started ads claiming that this was more big government, and that money would be wasted in a state already starved for revenue to pay for deficits created by generations of short-term thinkers. The results thus illustrate that so many people are on fixed incomes they respond to any argument to "limit government" and "oppose tax increases. Perhaps some clever researchers and messagers will research and find ways to convince voters to see the big picture and look more than 15 minutes into the future.

Regardless of outcome, the effort produced multiple positives. The Proposition 29 proponents raised awareness of the harms and costs of smoking, and the need for more research to understand how cancer works, and to find ways to manage or cure the many forms of cancer. The election also probably will be widely cited in research and policy debate over the role of money in election campaigns, and the mentality of our voters.

Kudos to the champions of Proposition 29 – they are many. The proponents include Lori Greenstein Bremner of the California branch of the American Cancer Society, that entire group, the national ACS, Lance Armstrong/Livestrong Foundation, and Mayor Bloomberg.

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