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Governor Unveils Tough Anti-Smoking Ads

Times Staff Writer

Less than a week after two tobacco companies sued the state for allegedly using cigarette taxes to vilify tobacco companies, Gov. Gray Davis unveiled a series of aggressive new television spots that show tobacco executives gleefully plotting to manipulate consumers.

“If tobacco wants to fight, they may get more than they’ve bargained for. We’re not taking our ads down. In fact, we’re putting four more up today,” Davis said to thunderous applause during an appearance at the UCLA Health Sciences Center on Monday.

It was his third public statement against smoking since Wednesday, a day after R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. accused the state of misusing funds from the Proposition 99 cigarette tax increase in 1988. The voter-approved measure earmarks a portion of that money for “school and community health education programs about tobacco.”

The governor said his appearance at the launching of the new ad campaign had nothing to do with the suit. He added, however, “We did want to take occasion to show we’re not backing down.”

He credited the 13-year-old media campaign, in part, with reducing smoking rates in California from 22% in 1989, the year after Proposition 99 was passed, to 16.6% today.

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“Research shows that the more aggressive the commercials, the greater the decline in smoking,” Davis said. “We intend to continue to be hard-hitting.”

But Davis said the new ads “are not vilifying in any sense of the word.”

Two of the new ads, which will air this spring, show tobacco company executives laughing as they discuss how their company targets rebellious teenagers, as well as adults who go to bars and clubs.

Another disputes the claim that so-called light cigarettes have less “bad stuff” than regular cigarettes.

The last ad asks those who enjoy cigarettes occasionally to admit that they are smokers.

After Monday’s news conference, the governor highlighted his long-standing commitment to fighting tobacco companies, pointing to his 1997 decision, when he was lieutenant governor, to lead a private lawsuit against the industry.

“This is an issue that has been close to my heart for a long time,” he said. “I’m personally offended,” he said, that the companies had sued the state of California.

But Davis’ decision to trumpet the ads comes as he proposes to pare back anti-tobacco spending and other programs held dear by anti-smoking advocates.

He is proposing, for example, to end state anti-cancer research grants. He also is recommending that the state spend $16.1 million on anti-tobacco advertising next year, down from $22 million this year.

To help close a budget shortfall of as much as $35 billion, Davis proposes to raise tobacco taxes by $1.10 per pack, generating an estimated $1.17 billion. However, the governor is not offering to earmark any of the money for anti-tobacco efforts, anti-smoking advocates note.

“We’d like to have all these programs increased and that’s not where we’re at today,” said Paul Knepprath, lobbyist for the American Lung Assn. of California.

R.J. Reynolds spokesman Tommy Payne said he could not comment on the state’s new ads because he had not seen them. But he said his company is not seeking to stop “any type of ad that talks about the risks or the health consequences of smoking.”

Rather, he said, “It’s simply about saying ... you can’t step beyond the bounds of Proposition 99 and attack or vilify the tobacco manufacturers or their employees.”

Payne added that California had agreed to refrain from vilifying manufacturers and their employees as part of the $206-billion settlement agreement that the industry reached with 46 states in November 1998.

Anti-smoking advocates, however, applauded Davis for challenging the companies.

“The industry is running scared because they know what we know -- that the state’s comprehensive tobacco control efforts, including the media campaign, work,” said Charles Smith, an American Cancer Society volunteer who appeared with Davis at Monday’s news conference.

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Times staff writer Dan Morain contributed to this report.


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