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Watch Out--Tobacco Industry's Intentions Are Very Smoky : Prop. 188: A misleading campaign would have voters believe this measure would further restrict smoking.

November 04, 1994|TERRY B. FRIEDMAN | Assemblyman Terry B. Friedman, (D-Brentwood), chair of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee, was the legislative author of the California Smokefree Workplace Act

Imagine spending $2 million to qualify an initiative for the state ballot, then tens of millions more to pass it. If you were that dedicated to your proposition, wouldn't you also take advantage of every public opportunity to discuss and debate it? Not if you are the tobacco industry, creator of Proposition 188.

It is obvious why Philip Morris and the other out-of-state nicotine peddlers are pushing Proposition 188--they want to wipe out California's strong and popular anti-smoking laws. That's their right. The cigarette manufacturers are fighting to preserve their billions a year profits.

With such strong self-interest at stake, why do the tobacco giants refuse to debate their own initiative? An examination of the "Yes on 188" campaign reveals the cynical wisdom of their stealth strategy. Instead of arguing against strong anti-smoking laws, their true position, the tobacco industry asserts that Proposition 188 actually restricts smoking. Their billboards proclaim "tough statewide smoking restrictions." Their slick mailers promise that 188 will prevent minors from smoking.

Incredibly, the tobacco industry has adopted the rhetoric of the anti-smoking movement. Of course, tobacco has not changed its ways. Proposition 188 is a direct assault on the successful anti-tobacco movement in California. It would repeal California's recently enactedSmokefree Workplace Act, prohibit local communities from adopting anti-smoking laws and wipe out new, tough state restrictions on tobacco sales to minors.

Like the cigarette warning label, Proposition 188 is dangerous to health. It would allow smoking virtually everywhere, exposing all Californians to the cancer-causing chemicals in secondhand smoke. Asthmatics, pregnant women, children, the elderly and the sick once again would fear patronizing their favorite restaurants. Workers again would face the awful choice between their job or their health.

So Philip Morris and its cohorts are running a stealth campaign. By ducking all talk shows, League of Women Voter debates and legislative hearings, the tobacco industry avoids the tough questions that would expose their campaign lies. Unfortunately, the "No on 188" campaign, led by every health organization in California, is severely underfunded, having raised only $750,000, just 4% of the tobacco industry's bankroll. The opponents to the measure cannot afford to challenge the tobacco industry's deception on television, the medium from which the public receives most campaign information.

But tobacco's heavy hand may have reached too far. "Yes on 188" launched its multimillion-dollar television barrage with a spot featuring junior high school Vice Principal Nancy Frick. In the commercial, the educator says, "I want to stop kids from smoking. Proposition 188 will do that." Apparently, the 188 campaign did not explain to Ms. Frick that the proposition weakens tough California law against minors' access to cigarettes. Once she learned the truth, Frick recanted her statement and demanded that the commercial be dropped immediately. Most significant to the campaign, the public now knows that the cigarette makers tried to trick a school administrator.

This incident illustrates the essence of the Proposition 188 campaign. Tobacco interests are trying to deceive sincere anti-smokers, like Nancy Frick, with the fraudulent message that 188 restricts smoking. Unless voters know that the initiative repeals smoking restrictions, many will fall prey to tobacco's big lie. That's why the tobacco industry is afraid to debate its own initiative. The outcome of this crucial battle affecting every Californian's health hinges on whether the opponents' message reaches the electorate. If it does, the voters will reject Proposition 188--just as Nancy Frick did.

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