June 8, 2012

Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

Does the LA Times feel bad about supporting the tobacco industry?

I have been giving the outcome of the Prop 29 election a lot of thought and talking to others involved in and watching the campaign. 

There is a broad consensus that the single largest boost that Philip Morris and Reynolds American got for their campaign against Prop 29 was the fact that the LA Times urged a "no" vote

The cigarette companies heavily promoted the Times' position in their $47 million ad blitz, especially in Southern California and it worked.  Everyone expected Prop 29 to do worse in LA than Northern California because Southern California is more conservative than Northern California, but there was an unprecedented difference:  The election day returns showed Prop 29 winning by 73%-27% in San Francisco County but narrowly losing in LA.  The only thing that can explain such a huge split was the LA Times endorsement of the tobacco industry's position. 

While the Times tried to distance itself from Big Tobacco, they parroted its argument:

"Proposition 29 is well intentioned, but it just doesn't make sense for the state to get into the medical research business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year when it has so many other important unmet needs. California can't afford to retain its K-12 teachers, keep all its parks open, give public college students the courses they need to earn a degree or provide adequate home health aides for the infirm or medical care for the poor. If the state is going to raise a new $735 million, it should put the money in the general fund ..."

As a professor at the University of California who has been watching in a mixture of horror and depression as all of California higher education has been pushed off a cliff because the Republican minority in the Legislature has seen that there is not enough revenue in the general fund to provide the kind of services that the public deserves, I certainly support restoring taxes the Republicans have cut (as part of past budget deals) to provide revenue to the general fund.

The problem is that voters just wouldn't go for raising general fund revenues from a tobacco tax; they want to know where the money will go.  If Prop 29 had put the money in the general fund, Philip Morris and Reynolds would have been arguing that the poor smokers were being taxed to give money to "the politicians" to waste.  The Times said they would support a tax that wouldn't pass.

The Times also ignored the huge benefits to the State of California -- including the general fund -- because of the huge drop in smoking that Prop 29 was predicted to cause: $32 billion in reduced health care costs in the first 5 years.  About a third of that money is covered by taxpayers and contributes to California's financial problems.

The Times also ignored the fact that reducing smoking also makes a huge indirect contribution to the State's economy because when people stop buying cigarettes, they spend the money on other things.  Because no tobacco is grown in California and no cigarettes are manufactured in California, 80 cents of every dollar spent on cigarettes leaves the state, going back East to Philip Morris, Reynolds and other tobacco interests. 

As a result, the $1 billion a year drop in smoking Prop 29 would cause would keep $800 million in California, creating about $2 billion in economic activity (and 12,000 new jobs), a huge boost to California's depressed economy.  All that activity would generate about $200 million in additional revenues for the general fund and other government programs.

What about that?

To add insult to injury, today the Times ran another editorial today in which they changed their reason for opposing 29.  Now they repeat another tobacco industry argument, saying:

"As Proposition 29 would do, part of the money should go toward smoking prevention programs, as well as for smoking cessation treatments. The rest could productively be spent on treatment for smoking-related diseases, so the people who pay the tax receive the direct benefit and the state budget gets some relief.  ...A better initiative should be harder for Big Tobacco to attack."

The Times seems to have forgotten that the same people who mounted the campaign for Proposition 29 tried to do just that in 1986, with Proposition 86.  The tobacco companies beat that one 52% to 48% by arguing that the money would go to greedy doctors and hospitals. 

The public clearly liked Prop 29 better.

And, as noted above, Prop 29 would have reduced health costs by keeping people from getting sick in the first place.

The LA Times perseveration reminds me of a kid who knows they did something wrong and is coming up with constantly changing explanations for why.

As the absentee ballots trickle in, the gap between "yes" and "no" has been shrinking, down to about 30,000 out of 4.4 million votes cast so far.  While a long shot, Prop 29 may still pass.

If it does and makes the huge contribution to California's health and economy we expect it to, will the Times admit they were not only wrong but uninformed and irresponsible?

Comments

Comment: 

Dear Stan,
Those (including the LA Times) who are complicit with the tobacco
industry should pay. I know it is difficult to make the industry truly
accountable since they only care about the bottom line and they are willing to
use all kinds of hidden deceits and front groups for their cause. Yet, in
response to a post by Ed Sweda on the Altria Shareholders' Meeting, I wrote the
following:
June 8, 2012 at 4:27 am
How might one make those
who won’t be accountable, accountable? Given that the visibility of tobacco
industry efforts (buying the Prop 29 vote, for example) further discredits the
industry, they continually hide their actions through front groups. Since the
industry will do and spend all they can to defeat public health and responsible
policy, it is near impossible to make them truly accountable. Yet, those
complicit with the industry should be held accountable by the public so industry
interference is drastically reduced. My question,
“Why does no one hold
these partners of deceit accountable?” 
 

Comment: 

ignorant or complicit. Like Nixon's choices, as it happens.
To argue the money should have gone to things the industry could easily argue are unfair to make smokers pay for, the general fund being at the top of the list, is to agree with industry doubletalk. The money's no good here; the money's no good there. Can't general; can't be special; can't do it. The LATimes never even mentions this. They'd have you believe it somehow never even occurred to them. Are they really that ignorant? That's the entire depth and breadth of their thinking here? Or are they complicit?

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