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Launching the Election Campaign

On May 2, 1988, the Coalition held a series of press events across the state when the signatures were delivered for validation.[27] Some signatures were delivered in ambulances to attract press coverage. The same day, CAUTI held a press conference arguing that the tobacco tax was just another way that special interests and doctors would get richer. Even though the election was six months away, the battle promised to be long and controversial.

In late April, the Coalition had commissioned Charlton Research to gauge public opinion on the tobacco tax initiative and determine campaign themes and strategy. Support for the tobacco tax increase remained between 61 percent and 65 percent before and after various arguments for and against the initiative had been presented (

table 1). The most popular argument for supporting the initiative was that 20 percent of the revenues were allocated to health education and tobacco-use prevention; 82 percent of the respondents said they would be likely to support the tax for this reason. The next most popular argument was that 45 percent of the revenues went for people who could not afford health care; 72 percent reacted favorably to this argument. But when the argument was restated—that 45 percent of the money would benefit doctors and health providers—it received the highest negative reaction; 58 percent of the respondents said they would be less likely to support the tax in
response to this statement.[28] Although the Coalition effectively used all of these themes, limited resources did not allow statewide advertising on the same scale as the tobacco industry's.

The industry had already geared up for the campaign. It hired the public relations firm of Ogilvy and Mather to provide spokespersons for the CAUTI campaign. Staff members in both Northern and Southern California were designated to handle media requests. Kimberly Belshé joined the tobacco industry team as its Southern California spokesperson and helped the tobacco companies organize their in-house mailings to smokers.[29] In 1993, when asked where to find Belshé, Nicholl commented, “She's not with them anymore. I saw her turn up somewhere else. She became an aide to a politician.”[6] By November 1993, everyone would know where to find Belshé because Governor Pete Wilson had appointed her to be the director of the Department of Health Services, the state agency charged with implementing the Proposition 99 health education programs.

The industry's polls indicated that, although the tobacco companies were in trouble, several messages might play well with the voters. Jeff Raimundo, an account executive at Townsend and Company and communications director for CAUTI, later described the tobacco industry's use of the polling data in its campaign against Proposition 99:

Our polling told us that doctors were…almost as unpopular as the tobacco industry. Doctors per se, not your own doctor. …Our polling also told us that the public was generally opposed to tax increases [and] that the public was generally opposed to using the initiative process to accomplish social policy…and that the public by and large thought individual rights were something that ought not to be trampled by initiative. Having said all that, the poll results showed us going in [with] public support of this initiative, like 75 percent to 20 percent. And I think their polls were about the same. It was huge. …And using all of our strategy to try to attack the soft spots in the initiative, even in our polling we could only pull it down to about 58 percent to 42 percent. Which is where it ended up.[29]

By June, the tobacco industry was broadcasting radio advertisements using the theme that rich doctors would get richer with this tax while the poor would pay the most for it. The industry had considered running advertisements during the signature-gathering phase but did not want to give the circulators extra publicity. After the initiative qualified, these advertisements were designed to counter the free publicity that had surrounded the proponents on filing day. According to Raimundo, “There

had been a lot of publicity around the qualifying of the initiative. And we didn't want that to go unresponded to for months. …They were getting all kinds of positive publicity. We had to do something to…plant the seeds of doubt about the initiative.”[29]

The two campaigns shared a similar approach—designing a message around polling data—but they used the data in very different ways. CAUTI had the money to saturate television, radio, and print media with paid advertising that promoted the tobacco industry's position. The Coalition, with its limited resources, relied on free publicity to define the issue and to get its message to the public. The Coalition used the grassroots network it had established during the signature collecting campaign.[30] Members held coordinated press conferences throughout the state using local volunteers who were assisted by press materials and information that Nicholl and his campaign staff provided. They established speaker bureaus, trained volunteers to debate the opposition, and secured endorsements.[31] All this activity received widespread media coverage. Some of the more effective press conferences in early July featured children helping to promote the tobacco tax.[32] During the campaign, only three major newspapers in California ran editorials opposing the tobacco tax.[31]

Although the Coalition used the name and credibility of the American Heart Association (AHA) throughout the tobacco tax effort, the AHA had not contributed significant organizational, staff, or financial resources.[4] Nicholl summarized the attitude of the voluntaries:

Here's the way I describe it. Cancer is Republican, Lung is Democrat, and Heart is nonpolitical. They can't stand it. They don't like politics, they're not comfortable with it. It's like walking on nails for them. So they were not really there until the end. Cancer is controlled by all these docs. This is just the lay person's view of things. And Lung Association, boy, if they were better trained, they'd be better, but their heart is out on the streets and, you know, kind of a democratic approach. But Heart, it is just not comfortable with politics.[6]

However, on July 11, 1988, the AHA Greater Los Angeles Affiliate finally contributed $25,000 to the Coalition, and the California Affiliate (which included all of California outside Los Angeles County) gave $25,000 in early September.[33][34] AHA had never even had representation in Sacramento until August 1988, when it hired Dian Kiser to be its first lobbyist. AHA worried that its name would be linked with radical organizations like Campaign California or ANR.[4]

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Beating the Tobacco Industry at the Polls
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