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Tobacco Control in California 2003-2007: Missed Opportunities


While smoking prevalence in California continued its decline (reaching an historic low of 13.3% in 2006), this rate was slower than in earlier years, reflecting the fact that tobacco control efforts in California in the period 2003-2007 continued to drift, with no clear indications that California would regain its international leadership in tobacco control.

Neither the Schwarzenegger Administration nor the California Legislature sought to divert the Proposition 99 funding allocations, but continued the policy of the Davis administration to emphasize aspects of the California Tobacco Control Program that are not proven to be effective, such as school-based education programs, while moving slowly with those that are effective, particularly a strong media campaign.

The Administration has continued to shift increasing amounts of funds from the Proposition 99 Research Account away from the Tobacco Related Disease Research Program to the Department of Public Health Cancer Registry, leading to marked reductions in funding for important and innovative tobacco control research.

The state continued to refuse to use any money from the Master Settlement Agreement for tobacco control. In 2003 and again in 2006, the Legislature sold the state’s share of the Master Settlement Agreement payments for immediate revenues (“securitization”) by the tobacco companies through 2030. Counties and municipalities, which receive 50% of California’s Master Settlement Agreement funds, have increasingly securitized their share of these monies. Only 30% of the 58 counties allocated any MSA funds for tobacco control.

Under Bill Lockyer, the Attorney General’s office has vigorously enforced tobacco industry compliance with the Master Settlement Agreement. Campaigns to end tobacco industry violations of the Master Settlement Agreement (primarily by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company) with regard to youth marketing tactics and youth access to tobacco products were successful. Former Attorney General Lockyer was active in the campaign of a multi-state group of Attorneys General to get smoking out a movies targeted at children; but Attorney General Jerry Brown has not participated in this effort since taking office in 2007.

The tobacco industry intensified its efforts to influence California politics with its campaign contributions to legislators, legislative candidates, political parties and constitutional officers. The industry steadily increased monies spent on state level political activities in the period 2003-2007, from $4,086,553 in 2003-2004 ($1,083,448 to candidates) to $4,359,205 in 2005-2006 ($1,895,584 to candidates).

Campaign contributions from the tobacco industry continue to heavily favor Republicans. In 2005-2006, $1,797,484 was contributed to the Republican candidates and officeholders, to the California Republican Party and other Republican controlled committees compared to $98,100 to the Democrats.

In the 2006 general election for constitutional offices, neither candidate for Governor, State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, or Superintendent of Public Instruction took any tobacco for industry campaign contributions. The Republican candidates for Lt. Governor (McClintock, $8,364), Secretary of State (McPherson, $15,200), State Controller (Strickland, $7,100), Attorney General (Poochigian, $8,100) and two Board of Equalization seats (Leonard, $7,600 and Steel, $1,500) all took tobacco industry money. Among Democratic candidates for onstitutional offices, only Jerry Brown ($5,600) for Attorney General and Betty Yee ($2,000) for Board of Equalization took tobacco industry money. In the Legislative races in 2006, Dutton (R) in the Senate ($9,100) and Garcia (R) in the Assembly (($14,800) were the top recipients of tobacco company money. Of the 56 legislators who took no tobacco industry campaign contributions in 2005-2006, 52 were Democrats.

By far the most significant tobacco-related event in the 2003-2007 period was the defeat of the effort to increase cigarette taxes through Proposition 86 in 2006. The proposition would have increased the cigarette tax by $2.60 a pack. What began as a well-planned initiative petition campaign by health groups for a $1.50 tobacco tax increase became an excessive, badly structured joint initiative with the California Association of Hospitals and Health Services. The fact that most of the money from the proposed tax was directed towards funding hospitals, the size of the tax, and the fact that only 10.7% of the money would go to genuine tobacco control provided legitimate points of criticism that the tobacco industry could use to attack the proposal in its $66 million campaign against Proposition 86. Voters rejected Proposition 86, with 51.3% voting “no.”

In 2003, the Legislature passed a tobacco sales licensing law (AB 71) that requires every entity in the commercial chain from manufacturers to retailers to obtain state licenses to sell tobacco. While it lacks any penalty for selling tobacco to minors, it did not preempt local jurisdictions from enacting stronger licensing laws. Forty-two California communities have strong local retailer licensing ordinances that include fees high enough to sufficiently fund administration and enforcement, and fines and penalties including suspension and revocation of license to deter violations.

In 2005, the Legislature passed AB 178, which mandated that all cigarettes sold in California on and after January 1, 2007 be so-called “fire safe” cigarettes or reduced ignition products (RIP). Manufacturers are required to certify that the cigarettes are self-extinguishing at least 75% of the time.

Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed two important tobacco control bills in 2006, a ban on internet sales of cigarettes (SB 1208) and a mandate for health insurance coverage of smoking cessation services (SB 576).

Six tobacco control measures were passed in the 2007 Session. SB 7 prohibits smoking in any motor vehicle with any minors present, and AB 1467 would have eliminated the remaining exceptions in the original 1994 smoke-free workplaces law (AB 13). The other four bills strengthen youth access laws. AB 1617 would have prohibited the shipping or transporting of cigarettes to individuals in California (another attempt to control internet sales of cigarettes), and SB 624 broadens enforcement of the STAKE (Stop Tobacco Access to Kids) Act from just the Department of Public Health to all law enforcement agencies and increases penalties for violations. The Governor vetoed two of the 2007 tobacco control bills, another ban on internet cigarette sales (AB 1617) and a bill closing loopholes in the original California smoke-free workplaces law (AB 1467).

Local tobacco control policymaking in California since 2003 has seen innovation. Momentum for nonsmoking multi-unit housing has been building, with surveys showing that 80% of nonsmoking tenants in California wish to live in smoke-free buildings. In 2004, the Thousand Oaks City Council unanimously became the first city in the nation to pass a mandate on by requiring that one-third of new multi-unit affordable housing units funded by the city would be nonsmoking. Another important first in California local tobacco control policymaking came when the City of Calabasas in 2006 mandated an all-inclusive smoke-free policy in the entire city except in small (no more than 40 square feet) designated smoking areas in shopping malls, so long as no smoke is permitted to enter adjacent areas in which smoking is prohibited, and outdoor areas in which no nonsmoker is present or likely to be present. Then in October 2007, Belmont became the first city in California to ban smoking in the residential units of all multi-unit housing. Adding to this expansion, smoke-free ordinances for public beaches have also been passed by local communities in many locales in California.

The history of tobacco control in California has been local activism and voter initiatives, with statewide legislation following. Local activism is still the key source of innovation in California.

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