Fourteen protesters picketed outside the Los Alamitos Medical Center on Wednesday to protest Dr. Marcy Zwelling’s opposition to a ballot measure to increase taxes on tobacco. The protesters, young and old, lined up with posters and a large “Vote Yes on Prop. 29” banner as they chanted “Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Dr. Zwelling’s got to go!” They cheered and waved when passing cars honked their horns in support.
If passed, Prop. 29 would add a $1 tax to every pack of cigarettes. Zwelling, who signed a petition against the ballot measure, said yesterday that although she opposes smoking, she can’t support an initiative to raise taxes to fund a bureaucracy she does not believe will be effective in getting people to stop smoking.
Zwelling did not respond to calls for comment Wednesday.
Dr. Marsha Epstein, who practiced medicine for 28 years before retiring, came out to show her support for Prop 29.
“As a physician, my primary goal is to save lives,” said Epstein. “Every time there is a tax increase, fewer teenagers start smoking and more adults choose to stop.”
Unlike some of her fellow protesters, Epstein made no assumptions about Dr. Zwelling being co-opted by the tobacco industry. “She’s just against any kind of tax increase,” said Epstein, “but this is not a tax like you or I would pay. It is only a tax on cigarettes, so it only affects cigarette smokers.”
Also among the chanting crowd of protesters was Harriet Dolgian, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1990. That’s when she first got involved with American Cancer Society. In 2002, Dolgian was asked to speak on Capitol Hill as a legislative ambassador for the group. “I said, I have three daughters, they’re strong daughters, if I go home and tell them that I passed up this opportunity, they’d probably shoot--well--they wouldn’t be happy with me,” Dolgian recalled. “So I went to the celebration on the Hill and all this, working with the ACS and giving back, just kind of took over me.”
Although Dolgian never smoked, she was brought up in a home in which her father, mother, sister and brother did.
“I never smoked, but I’m the one that got cancer,” Dolgian said.
That’s why Dolgian said she is adamant about bringing awareness to the side effects of second-hand smoke.
“Statistics have shown that the best way to get people to stop smoking is to raise the tax on tobacco,” said Prop. 29 spokesman Charlie Smith, who questions Zwelling’s sincerity. “So if she really was truthful about wanting people to stop smoking, she’d be in favor of a tax on tobacco.”
According to Smith, only one other physician in the state signed a petition against the measure. “California is one of only three states that have not raised taxes on tobacco [since 2000],” said Smith “The reddest of the red states have raised the tax on tobacco. We just want to make sure that just because big tobacco can find one or two doctors in the entire state to oppose the ballot, it doesn’t mean they represent the medical community.”