If nothing else, Proposition 86 on the Nov. 7 statewide ballot will help test the influence of campaign advertising.
The measure would increase the state tobacco tax by $2.60 per pack of cigarettes, more than five times the increase that state voters approved in 1998 to fund early childhood health and education programs. The $2.1 billion the tax is expected to raise at its highpoint would be distributed among hospitals that operate emergency departments, efforts to expand children's health insurance programs and other health initiatives.
Neither side of the campaign has held back much in the way of spending. Proposition 86 opponents have pulled in $58.6 million, including $31.7 million from Philip Morris USA and $22.8 million from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. As of Oct. 21, the campaign against the measure had spent $58.1 million, partly on television ads that have aired more than 17,000 times in the state's five largest media markets.
The ads have questioned whether provisions of the measure would allow hospitals to engage in anticompetitive behavior by setting payment rates for ED physicians. Some other ads were intended to raise concerns about higher crime rates because of increased cigarette smuggling.
By comparison, the measure's supporters have spent slightly more than they've raised -- contributions totaled $13.2 million as of Oct. 21, while spending amounted to $13.5 million. Proponents' ads have aired more than 6,000 times in four media markets.
Field Poll found that voter support for Proposition 86 declined from July through October, while opposition to and awareness of the measure increased. The last Field Poll before the election found that support slipped still further -- tallying equal support and opposition for the measure. Field Poll Director Mark DiCamillo in early October attributed the change to opponents' advertising campaign, which started more than two months before Election Day.