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Beginnings: The Nonsmokers' Rights Movement
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The Tobacco Industry Joins the Battle

The tobacco industry mobilized against Proposition 5 before it was even written. According to Ernest Pepples, vice president for law at Brown and Williamson Tobacco, the industry began planning its strategy

before the terms of Proposition 5 were even known or concepts to combat it had been developed. Because of the early start a California Action Plan was presented to the chief executive officers [of the tobacco companies] within three weeks of the time the sponsors filed their “Clean Indoor Air Act” initiative and its provisions became known for the first time. That Action Plan became the basic blue print of the campaign concepts, strategy, organization and tactics for the entire campaign to defeat Proposition 5. The Tobacco Institute made Jack Kelly a full time employee—he had been the paid executive of California's tobacco distributors group—to devote all his efforts to the campaign.[6]


The framing of the Proposition 5 debate was important to the tobacco industry, which wanted to avoid health issues and nonsmokers' rights to clean air. The industry's preferred framing was that voters should fight off government intrusion. Jim Stockdale of Philip Morris commented on the rights question:

What troubles me is the danger of having the issue defined at the onset the way our opponents would like it to be defined, namely smoker vs. non-smoker. Our strategy should put us on the offensive. …Will the anti-smoking groups attempt to polarize the electorate into two groups—smokers vs. non-smokers—or will they attempt to broaden their appeal by coopting the individual rights argument (i.e., a non-smoker has an inalienable right to breathe “clean air”)? We should have strategies for either situation. We have to clarify the thrust the campaign should take. The message should be to vote “no” to further governmental encroachment on individual rights.[7]

Using this thrust, the industry hoped to broaden its base of support to include groups such as Libertarians. The call to fight off government intrusion would persist for the next twenty years in the industry's battles over clean indoor air policies.

Ed Grefe, vice president for public affairs at Philip Morris, became actively involved in the Proposition 5 campaign and specifically blocked any mention of the health issue. According to Grefe, “the biggest argument I had internally throughout the entire campaign was to convince the other companies to keep their mouths shut about the health issue. They would say, `Shouldn't we put out a little brochure?' I said, `Forget it, we want no goddamn brochure on the health question. We can't win on the health question. We'll lose.' Legally, they could fight and win on the health question, they'd been doing it for years, but politically they couldn't. It's no use bucking public opinion.”[8]

The industry, recognizing from its own polling that it had virtually no public credibility, decided to act through a nominally independent campaign committee known as Californians for Common Sense (CCS). Even though CCS was created, financed, and controlled by the tobacco companies through a closely coordinated effort, CCS attempted to minimize and even hide its industry connections. The industry wanted the public to believe that CCS was a group of concerned California citizens. As a result, several important guiding principles were established to keep the profile of the tobacco industry as low as possible. As Ernest Pepples of Brown and Williamson wrote in a secret Campaign Report,

  • All campaign functions would be operated through the citizens committee, Californians for Common Sense.

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  • Tobacco company visibility would be confined to financial contributions to CCS. There would be no attempt to disclaim or discount the amount of tobacco contributions.
  • Tobacco company personnel would not make campaign appearances, occupy campaign positions or make public statements relative to the campaign.
  • No campaign events, programs or advertising would be directed to college campuses, specifically, or to youth in general.[6]

Although Pepples stated that there would be “no attempt to disclaim or discount the amount of tobacco contributions,” the tobacco industry kept a low profile during the campaign, and campaign spokesmen denied the industry's financial role until legally required campaign disclosure statements proved the industry was financing the campaign. On one occasion, CCS issued a press release that misstated tobacco industry contributions to the campaign by leaving out $300,000 of in-kind campaign contributions. As in all similar campaigns everywhere since, more than 99 percent of the money came from the tobacco industry.

In spite of the prominent role given to CCS, however, the tobacco companies maintained tight control of CCS activities from behind the scenes. As Pepples noted in his Campaign Report,

A group of 5 tobacco company representatives consisting of Jim Dowdell who was succeeded by Charles Tucker from RJR, Ed Grefe from Philip Morris, Arthur Stevens from Lorillard, Joe Greer from Liggett & Myers and Ernest Pepples from B&W kept in constant contact with the operation of CCS. Visits were made at least once a month by the group to the CCS headquarters in both San Francisco and Los Angeles. Also frequent telephone conferences were held between Woodward & McDowell [the firm hired to manage the campaign] and the five company people. During the final month of the campaign, almost daily conferences were held by telephone including Woodward & McDowell and Jack Kelly together with Lance Tarrance [the tobacco industry's pollster] in Houston conferring with the five company representatives.[6]

This tight control by the tobacco companies stood in sharp contrast with the industry's public position during the campaign: that Proposition 5 was a local California matter and that Californians for Common Sense was a campaign organization established by local citizens as a free-standing, autonomous organization. The industry's actual control also contrasted sharply with that of the national voluntary health organizations, which treated Proposition 5 as a local California matter and stayed out.

By the end of the campaign, Proposition 5's proponents had raised

and spent $633,465, an amount dwarfed by the tobacco companies' $6.4 million—divided among the companies in proportion to their shares of the cigarette market. The justification for this level of spending was simple in terms of protecting industry sales. Pepples did the math:

If it is assumed that the passage of Proposition 5 would have caused a decline in volume of just one cigarette per California smoker per day, the chart attached to this letter shows the industry would have suffered an after tax loss equal to $5.9 million in the first year. On that basis, it can be said that the industry will recover its “investment” [i.e., the $6.4 million spent to defeat Proposition 5] over a period of one year. If it is assumed that the passage of Proposition 5 would have caused a decline of 2 cigarettes per day per smoker, then the industry can expect to recover the $5.9 million expense in only 6 months.

California represents about 10% of the population of the United States or 20 million people. California is regarded as a trendsetter and theoretically if Proposition 5 had passed it would have had an impact on sales elsewhere in the United States.[9] [emphasis added]

The spending by the tobacco industry exceeded the combined expenditures of both candidates for governor and for many years remained a record for election spending in California.

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