National NAACP bucks CA chapter, backs tobacco tax initiative

The national NAACP this weekend endorsed the tobacco tax on
California’s November ballot, putting the national branch at odds with
the state arm of the NAACP and its president Alice Huffman.

The vote, which took place at the national board’s meeting in St.
Louis, Mo. comes less than two weeks after Capitol Weekly reported that
Huffman’s political consulting firm, A.C. Public Affairs, had received
$100,000 from cigarette-maker Philip Morris at the same time the
California NAACP was opposing the new cigarette tax.

“From our earliest days, the health status of African-Americans has
been a major NAACP concern. Proposition 86 will be a great step toward
that goal,” said Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP’s board of
directors, in a statement after the vote.

John White, communications director for the national NAACP, said that
it is “not unusual” for the national board of directors to endorse
state ballot measures–they are backing an affirmative-action measure
in Michigan this year–though he did not immediately know of another
time the national and state branches of the NAACP were at odds over an

“In this case, the national board’s action does overrule the state
conference,” said White.

Huffman, who sits on the national board of directors as well as
serving as president of the California NAACP since 1999, was not
immediately available for comment.

Anti-tobacco advocates in the black community were quick to hail the
national board’s decision. “It is a positive sign that African-American leadership is getting the message that they must stop taking tobacco-industry money,” says Carol McGruder, the project director for the San Francisco African American Tobacco Free Project.

Besides the payments to Huffman’s consulting firm, Philip Morris has
been a major benefactor for the state NAACP, donating $75,000 in the
last three years. In an earlier interview, Huffman described the
tobacco company as “a good partner.”

McGruder is currently mobilizing local NAACP chapters, urging them to
support the tobacco tax in California, despite the opposition of the
state NAACP. Already the Berkeley and El Cerrito NAACP chapters have
endorsed the measure.

“We endorsed it unanimously,” said Carole Kennerly, former vice-mayor
of Berkeley and member of the local NAACP. McGruder adds that there
are ongoing discussions at the Los Angeles and San Bernardino chapters
to support the measure.

And as members of the California NAACP gather in Oakland this week for
their annual convention, McGruder is forming a new group, Blacks for
Prop. 86, to gain momentum for the anti-tobacco cause.

“We are hoping that the state conference will reverse their decision
and endorse Proposition 86,” she said.

Proposition 86 would raise cigarette taxes in California by $2.60 a
pack, making the cigarette tax the highest in the nation, with the
estimated $2 billion in annual funds going toward various healthcare
program in the state.

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