Tobacco tax Prop 29 too close to call

Gavilan College: No ifs, ands or butts about smoking on campus

Tobacco companies have reason to be confident after waking up with a 51-49 lead against an initiative that would raise cigarette taxes by $1 per pack in California, but neither side was prepared to declare the Proposition 29 race over this morning.

The Secretary of State’s Office showed the no side with a 63,176 vote lead out of 3.8 million votes counted.

After a night of little sleep, opponents and proponents are calling county election offices throughout California to assess how many mail ballots are left to count – and where. The latter fact may be most relevant to whether the sides consider the race over or wait for more ballots to be counted, since some big counties overwhelmingly swung one way or the other yesterday.

“We’re very encouraged with a 63,000 vote lead, but there are obviously ballots still outstanding to be counted,” said No on 29 spokeswoman Beth Miller. “We are waiting to get a better assessment of how many ballots are still outstanding and evaluate whether that will have an impact.”

Chris Lehman, campaign manager for the Yes on 29 side, acknowledged this morning that proponents have an uphill battle if they are to still win the contest. “This campaign has been about a coalition of cancer survivors and their family members, and they’re no stranger to long odds. They’re going to vigilantly watch these returns come in and hope for the best.”

A Public Policy Institute of California poll showed that 67 percent of voters backed Proposition 29 in March when they were read the ballot language. But that number steadily declined through Election Day. The sides combined spent nearly $60 million in the race, with the tobacco industry-fueled opposition raising nearly $47 million of that.

Lehman said, “$47 million of distortions of the truth tend to have an impact on people. I think they spent a lot of time and an incredible amount of money about something other than tobacco … and some voters fell for it.”

But opponents said the initiative was flawed and appeared to have struck a chord with voters and some editorial boards concerned with how the tax dollars would be spent.

Proposition 29 would raise $735 million annually to pay mostly for cancer research, as well as smoking cessation programs. Backers also highlighted the fact that higher cigarette taxes lead to reduced smoking rates. But opponents compared the spending plan to two previous voter-approved programs for stem-cell research and high-speed rail and questioned why the measure would not raise money for the state budget.

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