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The Governor Tries to Kill the Media Campaign

Governor Wilson finally gave the tobacco industry what it wanted in January 1992: he shut down the media campaign.

Although Wilson had included the media campaign in his 1991-1992 budget, he imposed increasingly tight political control over it as his first year in office unfolded. According to Ken Kizer, director of DHS, the Governor's Office immediately wanted the advertisements toned down and

even started to review them.[37] DHS was no longer able to operate free of political interference in mounting its effective campaign to reduce tobacco use.

In his budget for the 1992-1993 fiscal year, released on January 10, 1992, Wilson went one step further and eliminated the media campaign entirely.[38] Moreover, rather than waiting for the Legislature to act, the governor had already ordered DHS not to sign the just-negotiated contract with the keye/donna/perlstein advertising agency, which had been going to continue the campaign on January 1, 1992.[39][40]

The media campaign went dark.

Dr. Molly Joel Coye, whom Wilson had appointed to replace Ken Kizer as DHS director, defended the decision to kill the media campaign.[41] Coye was a dramatic change from Kizer. Whereas Kizer had been a strong program advocate and defender, Coye was not; she followed the governor's orders and remained aloof from the tobacco control community. According to Jennie Cook, “Molly was different. You could never get an audience with Molly. She was never available.”[42] Coye vigorously pushed the administration line that the local programs funded by Proposition 99 were a more effective use of resources and that the smoking decrease following the beginning of the media campaign was actually part of a trend that began in 1987 rather than the result of the anti-smoking advertising campaign.[43-45] In an opinion editorial in the Sacramento Bee, Coye claimed that “the revenues from Proposition 99 are being diverted for only one reason: to cope with the worst budget crisis in California's history. …If the tobacco industry is pleased with this temporary shift, it couldn't be more wrong.”[46] In fact, when the media campaign was suspended, the decline in tobacco consumption slowed.

While Governor Wilson justified the decision to eliminate the media campaign by pointing to the state's fiscal crisis, no one in the public health community believed him. Assembly Member Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento), the primary legislative force behind the original Proposition 99, expressed a view that was widely held within the public health community: “During the Proposition 99 campaign and the intense negotiations surrounding the implementation legislation, the provisions most virulently opposed by the tobacco industry were those that created the Health Education Account, including the enormously successful TV and radio antismoking ad campaign. Can it be just a coincidence that—after being wined and dined by the tobacco industry last summer—that it is precisely that account which has been gutted? I do not think so.”[20]


The governor was, in fact, more interested in killing the media campaign than in weighing how the money was being spent. At a March 16 hearing on the budget, held by the Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Subcommittee on Health, the Legislative Analyst indicated that the proposed diversions were inappropriate uses of the Health Education monies and that only the voters could make that reallocation.[47] The governor then proposed to shift the money to an AIDS testing program, perhaps hoping to enlist the AIDS lobby in the effort to kill the media campaign. In response, the ALA claimed that “the Governor's real agenda was not to fund needed programs but to gut the media campaign in whatever way possible.”[48] Kathy Dresslar, an aide to Assembly Member Connelly, agreed: “The fact that the governor has changed the reason why he wants to divert funds from the media account suggests he is less interested in health priorities than he is in gutting the media campaign.”[20]

In any event, both the governor's action and the justification for eliminating the media campaign effectively implemented the tobacco industry's plan, dating from 1990, to work with a variety of minority groups, hospital groups, the CMA, and business groups to divert money from the media program into other health programs.[49] The tobacco industry publicly endorsed the governor's action: the Associated Press reported that “Tom Lauria of the Tobacco Institute, the industry's lobby, applauded the proposed elimination of a campaign that `focused primarily on ridiculing industry…and basically put smokers in a bad light.'”[50]

In addition to citing the state's fiscal problems as the reason for suspending the media campaign, the administration claimed, without presenting any evidence, that the campaign was a waste of money because it did not work and that it was of “secondary” importance.

These claims about the media campaign's lack of importance and effectiveness were contradicted a few days later when John Pierce, a professor from the University of California at San Diego, released preliminary data from the California Tobacco Survey (a large statewide survey conducted under contract to DHS), of which he was director. Speaking at the AHA Science Writers Conference, Pierce said that the survey results demonstrated a 17 percent drop in adult smokers between 1987 (the year before Proposition 99 passed) and 1990. In 1987, 26.8 percent of adults smoked, compared with 22.2 percent in 1990. Pierce attributed this drop to the combined effects of the tax, educational efforts, and the media campaign.[51][52] Since the media campaign was the only part of the California Tobacco Control Program that was active during most of this period, Pierce identified it as the primary factor in this rapid fall.


Pierce's report made headlines. The San Francisco Chronicle proclaimed, “Anti-Smoking Program Big Hit—But Governor Seeks to Cut It.”[45] Other major newspapers gave the study's results prominent coverage: “California Push to Cut Smoking Seen as Success” (Wall Street Journal); “Anti-Smoking Initiative Called Effective” (Washington Post); “Anti-Smoking Effort Working, Study Finds” (Los Angeles Times); “California Smokers Quitting” (USA Today).[52-55] Rather than claiming credit for this stunning public health success, the Wilson Administration attacked Pierce's result, claiming that the conclusions were overstated.[57][56][57] DHS's new spokeswoman was Betsy Hite, who had been one of the original advocates for Proposition 99 when she was the ACS lobbyist; now she vigorously defended eliminating the media campaign.

Hite pressured TCS staff members to falsify data about the effectiveness of the programs in support of the administration's claim that the media campaign was not responsible for the state's decline in tobacco consumption. Hite told Jacquolyn Duerr, then head of the TCS media campaign, to back up Hite's assertion that the smoking decline had nothing to do with Proposition 99. Duerr and Michael Johnson, the head of DHS's evaluation efforts, and Pierce's contract monitor, refused to comply.[58][59] Duerr wrote Dileep Bal, the head of the DHS Cancer Control Branch (which includes TCS), saying, “I want you to know that this is some of the most unprofessional behavior I have experienced in my state service tenure”; Johnson wrote, “I hope that something can be done very soon to stop this falsification of results.”[59]

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