Children, low-income communities, and people of color are disproportionately targeted by tobacco ads and victimized by the industry. Thousands were getting hooked every year, and the medical costs of tobacco-related diseases were costing California taxpayers billions. In 2016, Tom Steyer led a broad coalition of Californians to victory against Big Tobacco to reduce smoking, save lives, and improve health care.
Fighting against the devastating harm that tobacco inflicts on people and communities hit home for Tom. He appeared in a TV ad where he revealed, “My mom Marnie smoked her whole life, and then she died of lung cancer. So I have a personal interest in helping prevent smoking.” But he also saw this as a moral responsibility. He couldn’t stand by while corporate interests manipulated the government for profit over public health.
Although the tobacco companies had successfully defeated 18 previous attempts in a row to raise tobacco taxes, Tom took the issue to the people. Together they gathered 1 million signatures — nearly twice the required number — to put a historic $2-a-pack cigarette tax increase on the statewide ballot: Prop 56.
In response, the country’s biggest tobacco companies poured over $70 million into opposition messaging. Most of the money went into ads that were widely condemned as misleading and divisive. In the end, the hard-fought, six-month campaign by the people-powered coalition ended Big Tobacco’s nearly 20-year dominance of the state.