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California Officials Tried To Undermine Anti-Smoking Program

Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration pressured state health officials to falsify information in 1992 to discredit California’s anti-smoking program, the San Francisco Examiner reported Sunday.

State Health Department officials were asked to contradict the agency’s own study so then-Health Secretary Molly Joel Coye could claim the anti-smoking efforts were ineffective, said the newspaper, citing internal agency documents obtained by the Berkeley-based Americans for Non-Smokers Rights.

Proposition 99, enacted in 1988, increased the tax on cigarettes by 25 cents per pack. The money was spent on anti-tobacco research and education, including TV ads that were credited with helping reduce tobacco use.

Wilson later shelved the ads, saying the money could be better spent. The ads were started again only after a court order.

The 1992 documents included angry memos by department officials who complained of pressure from Coye’s press aide, Betsy Hite.

One memo referred to a 1991 study on the Proposition 99 programs. The study found the campaign had cut the number of smokers in California by 17 percent in three years.

Jacquolyn Duerr, then supervisor of the anti-smoking media campaign, said she was asked by Hite to help prepare materials so the health secretary could claim the study was wrong and the programs weren’t really effective.

“I explained that the facts contradicted this and that we could not say there was no effect from the tobacco tax and the media campaign. … During this attempt to explain this information, Betsy began screaming and slammed the telephone down,” Duerr wrote.

She said the press aide later sent her an e-mail message that said: “It would be nice if you had a clue as to what the department’s position is.”

Hite’s subsequent criticism of the study enraged Dr. Michael Johnson, chief analyst in the department’s tobacco control section, the Examiner said.

“I will not ever falsify information or communicate results I cannot stand by,” Johnson wrote to his boss. “I hope that something can be done very soon to stop this falsification of results.”

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