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The Battle over Local Tobacco Control Ordinances
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The Sacramento Battle over Measure G

While the 1990 petition drive against the Sacramento city ordinance did not collect enough valid signatures, the county petition drive did yield enough signatures to suspend the ordinance. The Board of Supervisors decided to place the issue on the June 1992 ballot, where it appeared as Measure G.

In Sacramento Ray McNally worked through the SRMA, and the Dolphin Group worked through the CBRA, to conceal the tobacco industry's role in mobilizing opposition to the ordinance.

In December 1991 representatives from the ALA, ACS, AHA, the Sacramento/El Dorado Medical Society, and the Sacramento Sierra Hospital Conference formed Citizens for Healthier Sacramento/Yes on Measure G (CHS). Early in 1992, CHS commissioned a poll to plan its campaign to defend the ordinance. Seventy-two percent of those surveyed supported the county's tobacco control ordinance. The survey also showed that if people knew that Sacramentans for Fair Business Practices was actually a “front” for the tobacco industry, 48 percent would be more likely to vote for the ordinance, and 69 percent felt that such use of a front organization was “dishonest.”[48]


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The tobacco industry, through CFBP, spent $1,775,379 on its campaign to defeat Measure G, using mailers, radio advertisements, television spots, personalized absentee ballot registration forms, and a Kentucky-based telephone bank. The industry's strategy again emphasized that the ordinance would lead to unneeded bureaucracy, waste taxpayer dollars, and create “cigarette police.”

CHS anticipated a major tobacco industry campaign against the ordinance, but realized it could not match the tobacco industry's spending. Instead, it concentrated on raising an adequate budget to run an aggressive grassroots campaign with two key strategies: using the media to constantly inform voters of the tobacco industry's involvement against Measure G and educating organizations in Sacramento County about Measure G and the industry's misleading campaign advertisements.

CHS cultivated substantial media coverage and publicity for Measure G, which yielded nearly 100 newspaper, television, and radio stories. This media attention educated the public about how much the tobacco companies were spending and reported the false claims and controversy surrounding CFBP's campaign commercials and advertisements. This effort led three local newspapers to publish editorials supporting Measure G and criticizing the industry's involvement in Sacramento. The Business Journal warned, “They'll [tobacco companies] masquerade as smart, smooth-talking yuppies, complaining in savvy tones on your TV and radio about how Big Brother is at it again. But don't forget who they really are—tobacco companies that don't give a damn about small business or civil liberties, let alone public health.”[49]

In addition to its media campaign, CHS used two other key tactics. In April and May, CHS community outreach volunteers visited approximately sixty-five groups to neutralize the tobacco industry's misleading campaign messages and draw key support for the ordinance. Since CHS could not hope to match the industry's television or professional mailer campaigns, CHS got its campaign messages out by spending most of its money ($35,000) on radio advertisements attacking the tobacco industry during the final three weeks of the election.

A turning point in the election was a mailer sent out by CFBP one week before voting took place. Aiming to show that Measure G would create unnecessary “cigarette patrols,” the mailer listed several fake emergency telephone numbers, including a number for the “cigarette patrol.” Residents were encouraged to place these numbers near their telephones. The back of the mailer featured a copy of a memo from the Sacramento


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County Sheriff's Department regarding budget cuts, implying that the sheriff opposed Measure G. In reality, the memo had nothing to do with the ordinance. CHS capitalized on such a media event and joined with police, fire, health, and even telephone company officials who publicly criticized the industry mailer because of its misrepresentation and the potential danger associated with the fake numbers.

CHS's aggressive media strategy, its active community outreach program, and other local grassroots efforts led to a 56 percent to 44 percent victory for Measure G.


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