Last week, the California Senate approved five different anti-tobacco measures as part of a special session on health. The measures included raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco in California, classifying e-cigarettes as tobacco products, allowing local municipalities to impose additional taxes on tobacco products and others.
Those proposals will soon head to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature to approve the changes, but not before hints of a political slugfest.
As reported by The Sacramento Bee, an email from George Miller, a hired lobbyist who is known to work for tobacco giant Altria, has threatened to derail other non-tobacco proposals in California unless changes are made to the proposed tobacco laws.
Like most states, California allows for certain ballot measures to get onto the general election ballot if they receive enough signatures. What’s particularly different about California is that there is usually a high number of measures that make it onto ballot even if the process of getting them there can be a bit challenging.
In California, there are only a few firms that can collect verified signatures in a manner that survives challenges from opponents. These firms oftentimes charge special interest groups and others $1-2 per signature they get for a certain issue and it appears that Altria intends to outbid every other issue, bidding as high as $10 per signature.
Altria would be collecting a signatures for a referendum that would reverse the proposed tobacco bills, even if the chances of the referendum passing the general election isn’t great.
The objective is not a direct win on getting the citizens to overturn the anti-tobacco bills, but rather to pressure California lawmakers to give up, or at least negotiate, on the anti-tobacco measures before they become law. If they don’t Altria will simply pay the verified signature firms an extremely high amount of money to only gather signatures for their measure, meaning other proposals would never make it onto the general election ballot, many of which Gov. Brown and his allies likely want on the ballot.
But before the signature game starts, one person will need to sign his own name.
Gov. Jerry Brown still needs to actually sign the law into effect before Altria can start the process for a referendum. He will have 12 days before he must sign or veto the proposed rules from the special session once the bill lands on his desk, something that is expected this week.
For its part, the premium cigar industry is watching the situation closely, but not participating in the signature campaign.
Representatives from the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association (IPCPR) told halfwheel that they have been involved with fighting the special session legislation, but are not going to partake in the proposed ballot measure chess. Glynn Loope of Cigar Rights of America (CRA) echoed those thoughts saying CRA would direct its members to vote against any tax increase, but that it would not partake in the paid signatures campaign.
Despite the threats from the pro-tobacco side, neither side can claim they played particularly clean. All of the bills were passed under the special session, which has unique rules making it easier to pass controversial legislation. Emails obtained by halfwheel show that many fighting against the bills felt that many of the bills would not have passed without the special session rules.
Regardless of whether Gov. Brown signs and Altria’s decisions, there could be another tobacco-related measure for voters to decide. Anti-tobacco groups are pushing for a failed $2 per pack tax on cigarettes to be placed on the November ballot.
A person answering the phones at Mr. Miller’s firm indicated he was “out of the office” when asked for a comment.