FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 21, 2020
CONTACT: Jenna Thompson, 949.246.1620, jenna@paschalroth.com

Sacramento, CA – Yesterday, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund and the American Heart Association called on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Secretary of State Alex Padilla to immediately investigate disturbing reports of possible criminal voter fraud after multiple signature gatherers were caught on tape lying about Big Tobacco’s referendum. The tapes show petition circulators telling potential signers that Big Tobacco’s referendum would stop kids from buying flavored tobacco when the opposite is true – the industry’s referendum would overturn SB 793 (Hill), which ends the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state.

In the letters, the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund and the American Heart Association said that it appears signature gatherers for the referendum are “blatantly misrepresenting” the referendum’s “contents, purport or effect,” approaching voters and asking them to sign the petition under the pretense that it would support banning flavored tobacco when in fact the petition would do the opposite.

“Big Tobacco is trying everything they can to stop SB 793 from going into effect, and now that includes lying to California voters,” said Matthew L. Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Big Tobacco knows that California voters won’t sign their referendum if they understand what it does, so they’re obfuscating the truth yet again to protect tens of millions of dollars in monthly revenue from candy flavors. We urge the Attorney General and Secretary of State to put a stop to the industry’s efforts to mislead California’s voters. California can’t let this predatory industry put money over kids’ health any longer.”

Blatantly lying to voters to get them to sign a referendum petition is a criminal violation of the California Elections Code Section 18600, a misdemeanor, and punishable by up to a year in county jail and a fine.

“California stood up to Big Tobacco and put kids’ health first. We now need to protect our life-saving progress. It is not surprising to see them trying to deceive California voters in order to qualify this referendum. This only shows how desperate they are to continue their decades of harmful practices of hooking kids on a lifetime of addiction,” said Kathy Rogers, Executive Vice President, American Heart Association Western States Region.

SB 793 passed with nearly unanimous bipartisan majorities by the California Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Newsom earlier this year. The life-saving legislation will end the sale of candy-flavored tobacco products in California, also saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs for the state.

Immediately after the legislation was signed into law, Big Tobacco started desperate last-ditch maneuvers to overturn it. They’ve already spent $11 million to gather signatures to qualify a referendum for the November 2022 ballot. If they succeed in reaching the threshold number of signatures, implementation of SB 793 would be delayed pending the election outcome. According to calculations by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the delay would enable Big Tobacco to generate $1.1 billion in revenue from the sale of menthol cigarettes alone during the 22 months that California’s implementation of SB 793’s flavor ban is not in effect. Approximately 17,000 lives will be lost, 37,000 more high school kids will start using e-cigarettes, and the state will rack up another $800 million in health care costs related to tobacco use. They’ve also filed a frivolous lawsuit seeking to have the law invalidated, another desperate delay tactic.