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La Donna Porter, Doctor In Controversial Anti-Cigarette Tax Ads, Removed From Government Panel

First Posted: 05/14/2012 6:51 pm Updated: 05/14/2012 6:51 pm

Bowing to pressure from anti-smoking advocates, California Governor Jerry Brown has removed from a state health board a doctor who appeared in a controversial political advertisement.

Dr. La Donna Porter was one of five appointees to the state's Proposition 65 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee Science Advisory Board removed by Brown earlier this week. All five board members cut loose were appointed by Brown's predecessor, Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Two members of the panel, both Democrats, were retained. Porter is a registered Republican.

The body was created in the mid-1980s to evaluate chemicals to determine if they are carcinogenic or increase the risk of birth defects.

Porter drew the ire of much of the state's medical community when she was featured in an ad opposing the Proposition 29 ballot measure, which would increase California's tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack. The state already levies a $0.87 tax on the item.

In the ad, Porter stands in a doctor's office wearing a white lab coat and talking about a whole host of problems associated with Prop 29. "I'm against smoking, so I thought Prop 29 was a good idea. Then I read it," says Porter in the commercial that ran in heavy rotation on California television stations for two weeks. "It raises $739 million in tobacco taxes, but not one penny goes to new funding for cancer treatment. Instead, it creates a huge new research bureaucracy with no accountability run by political appointees who can spend out tax dollars in other states."

In an interview with the San Jose Mercury News, Porter's husband denied his wife had received a single penny for appearing in the ad. "We don't know anybody in the tobacco industry," he said. "They haven't offered any money. And I've been with her every step of the way."

The Sacramento Bee reports:

Brown spokesman Gil Duran offered little explanation [for Porter's removal], other than to suggest the governor has been making his way through the various appointees from the previous administration.

Duran did not directly refer to the Proposition 29 firestorm. But he said health advocate complaints and media investigations of Porter "certainly brought this board more attention than it usually gets. It brought it to the forefront."

Upon its airing, the ad sparked widespread condemnation around the state. A scathing editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle marveled, "It's amazing how many deceptions can be packed into 30 seconds."

The article took the ad to task for stating, "that's why doctors...say 'no' on 29," which implies that state's medical community opposes the measure. In reality, the California Medical Association is a strong supporter. The story went on to call the ad's argument that the bill neglects funding for cancer treatment "a dangerous half-truth" because nearly two-thirds of the proceeds of the tax--projected at up to $550 million per year--are to be directed toward cancer research.

Prop 29 isn't the first time Porter has publicly taken business' side on a controversial political issue. A decade ago, she forcefully advocated against the strict regulation of percholarte, a byproduct of rocket fuel known to produce harmful effects on the central nervous systems of infants and fetuses.

She also appeared in a similar 2006 ad against the unsuccessful Prop 86, which would have attached a $2.60 tax to a pack of cigarettes.

While demand for cigarettes is notoriously inelastic, the California Department of Public Health has estimated that if the cost of cigarettes were increased by the amount specified by Prop 29, the rate of smoking in the state would decrease by eight percent.

Accordingly, the tobacco industry is spending lavishly in an effort to defeat the measure. The Los Angeles Times reports that the parent companies of Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds gave $15 million to the anti-Prop 29 group Californians Against Out of Control Taxes & Spending, bringing the total pool of money spent by the industry to defeat the proposition up to almost $40 million.

In contrast, the measure's backers have only raised approximately $3.5 million.

Check out this ad supporting Prop 29:

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Filed by Aaron Sankin  |