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Prop. 188: Invasion of the Body Wreckers : Tobacco companies are seeking to manipulate Californians

Prop. 188. A look at a key issue on Nov. 8 ballot. One in a series.

November 05, 1994

Knowing it cannot win with the truth, the tobacco industry is resorting to the most cynical kind of subterfuge and guile as it tries to repeal California's strict law against secondhand smoke, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Its latest mailer to voters promises "tough statewide" restrictions on smoking if they pass Proposition 188. "Keep Tobacco Away From Minors," shouts the headline. Only by reading the very fine print do we learn that this shameless piece of electioneering trash comes from "Philip Morris, Inc., and other tobacco companies." And only by carefully reading the language of 188 do we discover that the procedures for keeping cigarettes and other tobacco products out of the hands of youngsters are remarkably toothless.

All voters should be clear on what Proposition 188 really is. This measure is a sham, a fraud and a deceit on the public that should be rejected by a resounding margin. It is an attempt by the tobacco industry to replace California's pioneering, toughest-in-the-nation restrictions on smoking in public places with far more lenient rules written by Philip Morris, which peddles Marlboro, Virginia Slims and Benson & Hedges cigarettes.

Only a two-thirds vote by the Legislature can change Proposition 188 if it is approved, and that requirement all but nails the door shut to any modification.

Under Proposition 188, the 80% of Californians who don't smoke would have to breathe the smoke of the 20% who do. In restaurants, office buildings, hotels and elsewhere, nonsmokers would be inhaling what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has labeled a carcinogen.

It's worth remembering that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 53,000 nonsmokers die each year in the United States because of exposure to tobacco smoke: 53,000, enough people to fill many big-city sports stadiums, all killed by a product that they themselves may never have used. And injury extends even to the unborn. Earlier this year the Journal of the American Medical Assn. reported that secondhand smoke can harm human fetuses. (Later the AMA called on the federal government to regulate tobacco as an addictive drug.)

California's laws should not be written by out-of-state companies misusing an initiative process originally meant to reduce undue corporate influence on state government.

Polls show that voters support the truly tougher state law, passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Pete Wilson this year. Philip Morris is banking on confusion, hoping that enough voters will be hoodwinked by its mailers and broadcast commercials into believing that a "yes" vote on Proposition 188 means tougher restrictions when it actually means quite the opposite.

In a flyer aimed specifically at smokers, Philip Morris takes a different tack, arguing that smoking should be permitted in restaurants and other workplaces as long as nonsmokers are given separately ventilated areas. That's an argument that even many nonsmokers can agree with. But that is not how the proposition has been presented to the general public, and there is doubt that the technology even exists to meet ventilation standards specified in the measure.

The tobacco industry has now spent more than $18 million to trick voters. Philip Morris alone has spent more than $12.5 million. Californians should send a loud response to this shameless manipulation by voting "no" on Proposition 188.

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