Mostly clear

Push to squash tobacco tax could echo beyond California

LOS ANGELES — Big Tobacco's success in branding a proposed California cigarette tax as a government boondoggle sent a message that could echo in other states as votes trended toward the opposition.

Through a barrage of campaign ads, the industry was able to cut support for a $1-a-pack cigarette tax backed by cycling legend Lance Armstrong from a two-thirds majority in March to a dead heat on Election Day.

While the outcome remained unclear Wednesday afternoon, experts said the feat of undermining the once-popular measure could scare off tobacco foes in other states.

The $47 million ad campaign — which scarcely mentioned the word "tobacco" — showed that cigarette makers are shifting away from arguing about their product and looking for other ways to attack tax initiatives.

"If they talk about smokers, most people in California aren't smokers," said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College in Pomona. "Instead, they talk about wasteful spending and most people in California are against wasteful spending."

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