Voters approve $2 Tobacco Tax, but reject other health measures

By April Dembosky

Update, 7:39 a.m. Wednesday: With 100 percent of precincts accounted for, California voters have enacted a new cigarette tax and rejected mandating condoms in porn movies and regulating state agency drug prices .

The cigarette tax, Proposition 56, passed by 63-37 percent. Proposition 60, requiring condoms in adult sex films, and Proposition 61, regulating drug prices, both failed by the same margin of 54-46 percent.

Proposition 56 Wins

Voters said yes to raising the state’s tobacco tax $2 for each pack of cigarettes. Before the election, California had one of the lowest tobacco taxes in the country — 87 cents per pack — and now it has one of the highest.

Tobacco companies mounted an intensive, expensive campaign to try to defeat Proposition 56, pouring $71 million into television and radio ads. Supporters of the proposition, including public health groups and hospital associations, raised $30 million.

“We built an unstoppable coalition,” said Mike Roth, spokesman for the Yes on 56 campaign, “that really stood up and took on the tobacco industry and its deep pockets.”

Opponents of the measure still maintained that it was bad public policy, but conceded.

“The voters have spoken and we respect their decision,” said Beth Miller, spokeswoman for the No campaign.

The tax is expected to raise about $1.2 billion, with most of the funds going to Medi-Cal, the state’s health coverage for low-income Californians, and the rest being invested in smoking cessation programs and education programs for kids.

Studies show that tobacco taxes push smokers to quit and prevent young people from starting. For every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, smoking goes down 4 percent.

“Voters sent an unmistakable message to tobacco companies that it’s time for them to pack up and go home,” Roth said.

The tax will take effect April 1, 2017.

Proposition 60 Defeated

Voters said no to requiring adult film performers to use condoms for sex scenes in porn films. While California law already requires porn producers to protect their workers against sexually transmitted diseases, the industry largely ignores the requirement and regulators rarely enforce it. Proposition 60 had aimed to make this mandate explicit and impose stronger enforcement measures.

Performers were cautiously optimistic about the measure’s defeat at a Tuesday night election watch party in Los Angeles.

“By and large, emotion was relief and pride,” said Mike Stabile, spokesman for the No on 60 campaign.

He said what seemed to make the difference was how involved performers were in the campaign.

“If performers hadn’t gone to editorial meetings, if there hadn’t been a protest, if performers hadn’t called in to radio shows, if they hadn’t met with politicians, if they hadn’t written op-eds,” he said, “this wouldn’t have gone the way that it seems to have.”

With Proposition 60 defeated, the issue will go back to Cal/OSHA, the state’s workplace enforcement agency, to write new regulations that will very likely include some kind of condom requirement for porn sets. The agency last tried to pass regulations in February of this year, but hundreds of adult film performers protested, and the regulations failed. The agency vowed to pass them next year.

Stabile says performers plan to be very involved in the process.

Proposition 61 Failed

Voters rejected a measure that would impose limits on how much the state can pay for prescription drugs. Proposition 61 would require the state to pay no more for drugs than the discounted price the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs pays. That covers drugs purchased for the state’s retired employees, prison inmates and some patients covered by Medi-Cal, the state’s health program for low-income Californians.

Proposition 61 was one of the most expensive campaigns in state history, with pharmaceutical companies investing more than $100 million to try to defeat the measure. The industry invested in ads that raised confusion and uncertainty about whether patients and vets would be able to get the medications they need under the measure.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which provides HIV care in 13 states and 37 countries, backed the measure with nearly $15 million, hoping to play into widespread public outrage over skyrocketing drug prices. But voters didn’t like the proposed solution outlined in Proposition 61.