Entries in California (37)


Mom Accused of Drowning Girl Wins With Insanity Defense; Now, Can She Re-Enter Society?

Hemera/Thinkstock(PATTERSON, Calif.) -- A California mother accused of drowning her 3-year-old daughter walked away a free woman this past week after she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and a judge deemed her fit to reenter society.

After three years of treatment and incarceration, Jennifer Lynn Bigham will begin the process of reintegrating herself back into everyday life.

Judging from past cases, however, the general public might have trouble accepting her, according to experts.

"I don't think attitudes have shifted much," said Dr. Phil Resnick, director of forensic psychiatry at UH Case Medical Center in Cleveland. "The public is still extremely skeptical of mental illness. Even when people are recognized to be severely mentally ill, many public attitudes are, 'I don't care what they did. They should be punished.'"

Bigham was found not guilty of murder and child abuse by reason of insanity on Jan. 22 after her daughter was drowned in a bathtub inside a relative's home on Jan. 14, 2010, in Patterson, Calif.

The Stanislaus County District Attorney's office is determining whether to appeal the judge's ruling to release Bigham, questioning whether he based it upon the proper standard.

"We think he used the wrong standard," said Carol Shipley, assistant district attorney for Stanislaus County. "It wasn't just [that] she was restored to sanity."

She added that the judge also should have considered the question: "Would this community be safe if she were released?"

An attorney for Bigham did not return a call for comment.

Bigham was held at the Stanislaus County Jail and treated at a local hospital. Two doctors testified that Bigham no longer exhibited the symptoms that led to the psychotic breakdown, the Modesto Bee reported.

"People found insane beat the rap, but in reality they may lose their freedom for a longer time," Resnick said.

Resnick testified for the defense during both trials for Andrea Yates, who confessed to killing her five children by drowning them one-by-one in the bathroom of her Houston home in 2001. Yates was acquitted in 2006 after jurors found her not guilty by reason of insanity. She was admitted to Kerrville State Hospital in Texas but applied for a two-hour weekly pass to attend church services at an undisclosed location -- a move her lawyer thought would aid her eventual release.

While the public may worry about repeat acts of violence, Resnick said suicide is the greater risk.

"There are the very occasional reports, like one in a decade, a woman may marry a second time, have children and harm her children again," he said. "It's extremely rare. They're much more of a risk to themselves than they are to society."

Dr. Stephen Montgomery, a forensic psychiatrist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., said people found not guilty by reason of insanity and released from psychiatric care need close monitoring to protect themselves and those around them.

"The first sign usually comes from a family member, co-worker or supervisor, and [they] call me and say something is not right," he said. "We rely on family. Many times, when a person becomes psychotic they don't have insight that they're getting sick again."

While society may be skeptical, Montgomery said, people released from prison with no major mental illness are a greater threat.

"Those are the kind of people that are going to be at risk with future violence," he said, "as opposed to those people found not guilty ... by reason of insanity."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


California Transgender Woman Plays College Basketball

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(SANTA CLARA, Calif.) -- Fifty-one-year-old Gabrielle Ludwig is a 6-foot-6-inch transgender woman, and among the first to play on both men’s and women’s college ball teams.

Once male, now female, Ludwig is a computer administration major at Mission College in Santa Clara, Calif., where she joined the Lady Saints women’s basketball team.

“I have always been an avid basketball player and fan and I will try to stay on the team for as long as I am a student,” Ludwig said in an interview with ABC News.

Ludwig, who plays center on the team, was prepared for intolerance, and there was some. There was an anonymous threat that prompted the college briefly to assign her police protection, and a safer parking space near the gym.  And Ludwig said the college had some bureaucratic hurdles for her to get over as well.

“I wasn’t allowed to participate in any games until I produced a new birth certificate… This made me feel discriminated against since none of the other team players had to provide birth certificates,” she said.

“I looked into NCAA and CCCAA [California Community College Athletic Association] rules regarding transgendered eligibilities to play basketball, and I had to provide evidence of being on female hormones for more than two years,” she said. “I am a woman in every way.”

Still, Ludwig says she has been accepted more readily on the team than some might think. “Gabrielle contacted me in July about possibly playing at Mission College, and since late August 2012 we started working on her eligibility to do so,” Corey Cafferata, head coach of the Mission College women’s basketball program, told ABC News.

A former technician in the Navy who served in Operation Desert Storm, Ludwig was born in Germany, lived in Wyoming and New York, and has a grown daughter, born when Ludwig was a man.  She briefly attended college as a teenager in New York and played basketball there, but that was 30 years ago.

Cafferata said that after Gabrielle enrolled at Mission and started taking 12 academic units she became eligible to be on the college team.

“Being part of the team is a big accomplishment. I have been trying out with a group of young and powerful athletes, and keeping up with them is a great thing,” said Ludwig. “The best thing about being on the team is being able to contribute to our goal of winning every game.”

Her age has sometimes slowed her on the court, but her coach says her fellow players have rallied around her.  “Gabrielle is liked and well respected in the team. She is a hard worker, courageous, and inspirational young lady and is a role model to many of her teammates,” said Cafferata.

Ludwig still has a long way to go to get back in shape. “The worst moments for me are when I fall on the court and have to take a few seconds to check whether or not I am injured, while the rest of the players just bounce back up.”

But Ludwig’s height will make a difference when Mission plays the College of the Siskiyous on Dec. 29. She stands a head taller than her teammates.

“She is very big and her team can turn a slow game into a fast one… We’ll be prepared next time and we’ll try to keep a double team on her,” Tom Powers, head coach of the Siskiyous women’s basketball team, told ABC News.

“I dealt with gender identity at an early age and I had many responsibilities raising my daughter,” Ludwig said.  “Once she was well on her way and once I felt she was okay with it, I decided to become who I really am.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Girl, 9, Loses 66 Pounds

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Breanna Bond weighed 186 pounds by the time she was 9 years old.

The extra weight made it difficult for her to breathe and move around.  The California girl soon became a target for bullies.

“Everybody at school would call me names,” she said.  “They would call me fatty, they would call me fat head.”

Bond's weight gain began when she was a baby, reaching 100 pounds by the time she got to kindergarten.  She couldn’t keep up with the friends who were running while they played.

Her mother, Heidi Bond of Clovis, Calif., decided to take matters into her own hands.  She designed an exercise routine for her daughter and the entire family.  They began to walk the four-mile trail near their home.

Before long, Breanna had lost 37 pounds.

In addition to following a diet that limits fat to 20 grams per day, Breanna also began using her home treadmill for an hour and 15 minutes each day.  She also started to play basketball and joined the swim team.

Heidi said Breanna inspires her every day.

“She is an inspiration to the world and all children who are having weight issues across America, that you can do it with a pair of tennis shoes and motivation,” Heidi said.  “It’s totally changed the course of her whole life.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Mushrooms Kill Third California Senior; US Cases on Rise

Hemera/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- Another person has died from accidental mushroom poisoning at a California senior care facility, bringing the total death toll to three.

The third victim, whose name, age and gender have not been released, died on Saturday, according to the Sacramento Bee.

The first two elderly women died after a caregiver at their senior care facility inadvertently served them a meal with poisonous mushrooms picked on the Loomis, Calif., property. The caregiver and three other residents of Gold Age Villa were hospitalized, according to WTEN-TV, the ABC News affiliate in Sacramento.

Teresa Olesniewicz, 73, died Friday morning, and Barbara Lopes, 86 died Friday night, according to the county coroner.

"It looks like a tragic accident," said Lt. Mark Reed of the Placer County Sheriff's Department.


Reed told the Sacramento Bee that the caregiver "just didn't know" the mushrooms were poisonous. It is not clear what kind of mushroom the victims ate, however.

Dr. Pierre Gholam, a liver specialist at University Hospitals in Cleveland, said he has seen an uptick in wild mushroom poisonings in his area, too. More than two dozen patients have arrived in the past three years with telltale mushroom poisoning symptoms, he said, including diarrhea followed by kidney and liver failure.

Gholam, who spoke to ABC News by phone from a meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Boston, said doctors there from across the country report similar increases in mushroom poisoning patients, even in areas not typically known for mushroom poisonings, such as the Midwest.

Specialists historically see case clusters in Northern California and in the Northeast.

"Clearly, there is something that has changed, in my mind, that has led to more mushroom poisoning cases," he said. "It looks like a nationwide phenomenon."

The reasons are unclear but Gholam suggested that more people could be picking their own mushrooms in the bad economy to save money.

Gholam's hospital is one of only a few authorized by the federal government to give patients an antidote called silibinin, which blocks the poison from attacking the liver. Fourteen patients have come from up to 150 miles away for the life-saving drug.

The poison in these mushrooms is called amatoxin, and it's colorless and odorless, so people who pick or eat them won't know until it's too late, Gholam said. The poison fungi can also come in different sizes and shapes. Cooking or freezing the mushrooms does not deactivate the toxin.

Typically, people begin to feel sick within six hours of eating the mushrooms, and come down with severe diarrhea, which causes dehydration and kidney failure, he said. Without the antidote, liver failure can set in after 72 hours, and the needs a liver transplant after 96 hours.

"I think at this point, it is absolutely critical to spread the word -- especially to folks that picked mushrooms -- that the landscape has changed," Gholam said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Triplets Smash Guinness Combined Weight Record

David De Lossy/Digital Vision(NEW YORK) -- When the stork visited Brittany and Jason Deen in Sacramento, Calif., it delivered not one, but three bundles of joys -- and a world record.

Sidney, Elliot and Jenson Deen weighed over 20 pounds combined at birth on Nov. 8, breaking last year’s Guinness Book of World Records for triplets total weight set at 18 pounds and 11 ounces in Raleigh, N.C.

“Their [Brittany and Jason] pregnancy is completely spontaneous.  Brittany conceived the three boys without use of any fertility treatment.  The chances of such an occurrence are one in 8,000,” Dr. William M. Gilbert at Sutter Medical Center, where Brittany delivered her boys, told ABC News.

Brittany insisted on carrying full-term and was delivered at 37 weeks by C-section.

“We usually deliver women with multiple pregnancies at 35 or 36 weeks because we are afraid of post-partum hemorrhaging which might happen after 36 weeks… That was our main worry with Brittany,” he said.

Sidney weighed in at 7.8 pounds, Elliott at 7.3 pounds and Jenson at 5.5 pounds.  Brittany, who gained 85 pounds during pregnancy and has already lost 50, had to follow a regimen that would sustain her while nurturing three fetuses.

“There was no cap for how much I would eat.  I ate like a hobbit… I would eat a meal every other hour… My diet was high in calories, high in fat, high in protein, high in dairy… On one day I would eat proteins that amounted to a dozen eggs,” Brittany told ABC News.

Sidney is still in the hospital under observation and is expected to be released early next week.  

“Infants are not discharged until we make sure that their eating and temperature are maintained.  We want to make sure Sidney is doing well on both,” said Gilbert, who is also the medical director of Sutter Moms of Multiples.  MOMs is a Sutter Medical Center care facility that provides comprehensive support to mothers expecting multiple babies.

Brittany, an oncology nurse at UC Davis Medical Center, joined MOMs as soon as she heard she was pregnant.  At MOMs, she was mentored on how to follow a diet to nourish her and the fetuses.  She attended weekly classes and appointments to learn about both the physical and psychological effects of such a pregnancy.

“At MOMs they taught us all the nuts and bolts of what it takes to have and raise multiple babies for the first two years,” said Brittany.  “There’s no way we could have gotten that far without the staff at MOMs.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


California Teen Recovering from Six Rattlesnake Bites

Hemera/Thinkstock(JAMUL, Calif.) -- It took 24 doses of anti-venom, four days of hospital intensive care, and two weeks at home for 16-year-old Vera Oliphant to recover from six rattlesnake bites.

Oliphant, who is from El Cajon, Calif., was visiting her uncle in Jamul -- that's in San Diego County, on Oct. 27 when she went up a hill from his house to try to get a cellphone signal to contact her mother.

“I thought I heard rattles behind me so I ran away. But then I stepped into the snake nest under a pile of leaves. First the mother snake bit my right foot… the baby snakes bit me after that.”

Oliphant tried to call 911, “but I didn’t have any phone signal. So I had to run down the hill back to my uncle’s house,” she said.


She said she was in a fog, her eyesight and her consciousness fading. How she got to the house, she cannot fully recall. “I was feeling numb and paralyzed. I had black vision and I saw bubbles.  It felt like needles were stabbing me… it burned so hard and it felt like a bomb just exploded in me. It’s really hard to describe,” she said.

“I struggled to get my key out, and I was too weak to ring the bell. I desperately tapped at the window and cried, ‘Help me,’ and that’s when my uncle took me to a hospital 15 miles away,” said Oliphant.

On the way to Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, Oliphant was somehow able to put a post on her Facebook page: “i got bit by a rattle snake & now i,m about to go to l.C.U .. it hurts like a ___ & my leg is paralyzed ._.”

Soon after, she went into anaphylactic shock twice and lost consciousness four times. She arrived at the hospital in the nick of time.

“The doctors told me that I need two to three months to completely recover from the bites. But I will feel a weird sensation when stepping on my left leg for years,” she said.

Oliphant’s father David, who is a former occupational nurse, was more worried about her response to the treatment than the amount of venom that was in her bloodstream.  "I am used to dealing with patients, but when it’s your own daughter it’s different,” Oliphant’s father told ABC News.

“The majority of people suffering from snake bites survive them if they’re treated on time,” Dr. Donna Seger, Executive Director of Tennessee Poison Center and an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell how bad the bites are because 25 percent of them are dry and sometimes the snakes miss the main vein.” Seger said.

But Oliphant had been bitten badly.  “Snakes in the West, including California, are usually nastier than the ones in the East and are much more toxic,” Seger said.

Oliphant said that she feels lucky to be alive.  She also thinks that had her phone worked, she would not have suffered as much. She said she wishes there are more cellphone towers.  “I mean, there was literally no reception where I was and if I had one I would have called for help.”

Oliphant hopes to go back to Chaparral High School in Santee next Wednesday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Student Who Got 'Gay Cure' Sues California Over New Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- A college student who claims he once had same-sex attractions but became heterosexual after conversion therapy has filed a lawsuit against California, which has enacted a law that bans so-called "gay cures" for minors.

The lawsuit, also joined as plaintiffs by two therapists who have used the treatments with patients, alleges that the law banning the therapy intrudes on First Amendment protections of free speech, privacy and freedom of religion.

The student, Aaron Blitzer, who is studying to be a therapist in that field, said the law would prevent him from pursuing his career, according to court papers filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The lawsuit names as defendants California Gov. Jerry Brown, as well as 21 other state officials, including members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Medical Board.

The other plaintiffs are Donald Welsch, a licensed family therapist and ordained minister who operates a Christian counseling center in San Diego; and Dr. Anthony Duk, a psychiatrist and practicing Roman Catholic.

Both say the law would restrict their counseling practices, according to the lawsuit.

"It's an egregious violation of the rights of young people feeling same-sex attraction, and of parents and counselors who feel it would be beneficial for the individual needs of a young person," said Brad Dacus, president and attorney for the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which asked a federal judge to prevent the law from taking effect.

"The legislature had an errant assumption that every individual struggling with same-sex attraction is caused by their DNA," he said. "It ignores thousands, including the plaintiff, who have gone through therapy and are now in a happy and healthy heterosexual relationship."

Dacus declined ABC News' request for direct access to the plaintiffs.

Just this week, California lawmakers voted to outlaw therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors who say they are gay, making California the first state to adopt such legislation. The law is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The bill's sponsor, California state Sen. Ted Lieu, said the therapy -- called "conversion therapy," "sexual orientation therapy," "reparative therapy" or "sexual orientation change efforts" -- amounts to "psychological child abuse."

"I read the lawsuit and, as a matter of fiction, it is a good read," Lieu said in a prepared statement after the suit was filed. "But from any reasonable legal standard, the lawsuit is frivolous. Under the plaintiffs' argument, the First Amendment would shield therapists and psychiatrists from medical malpractice and psychological abuse claims simply because they use speech in practicing their medicine. That is a novel and frivolous view of the First Amendment."

Lieu is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Several members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Mental Board were named in the lawsuit.

"Our board voted to support that piece of legislation after working with the author's office to further define sexual orientation change efforts," said Kim Madsen, executive officer for the sciences board, which licenses and oversees therapists.

She had no comment on the lawsuit, but said the board would investigate any complaints of conversion therapy after Jan. 1.

The law's critics say that it infringes on the rights of families and therapists, particularly young people who have same-sex attractions as a result of being victims of sexual abuse.

Dacus said the law makes them "victims twice, as a result denying them counseling and healing."

He said that counseling in "direct violation" of religious or personal beliefs "only precipitates greater confusion and depression and the likelihood of suicide."

"This legislation is a classic example of psychiatric ignorance combined with political neglect," he said, complaining of "compromises" that members of the California Psychiatric Association made with state legislators to enact the law.

"They clearly say that one size fits all and ignore the complexity of same-sex attraction and varying degrees of such attraction, depending on age and background," said Dacus. "It's out of place for the legislature to put such restrictions on it."

Members of the California Psychiatric Association have "mixed feelings" about the law, according to Randal Hagar, director of government relations for the organization.

"There is no psychiatrist who would engage and practice it and, if they did, they would be subject to ethical sanctions," he said.

The American Psychiatric Association has outlawed conversion therapies for more than a decade, insisting they are harmful.

On the other hand, said Hagar, the CPA is concerned about any bill that "basically prescribes any kind of treatment" or one that might lead "downstream" to someone legislating against another practice "they don't like."

"The difference here is that there is a very strong public policy argument that says why this practice ought to be limited," he said. "There is no evidence it does what it purports to be. It is, in essence, fraud ... and there is other evidence that it does harm. It concerns us greatly."

The CPA negotiated for months with legislators to hone language on the bill so that therapists could address "legitimate" talks on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, according to Hagar.

"We were wary of a form of the bill where they can't possibly engage in a discussion," said Hagar, who noted that the association supported the final version of the bill.

They also leaned on another precedent: Electroconvulsive shock therapy is highly regulated with judicial oversight.

"You can't give it to minors -- period," he said.

"I think the bill is clear and clean and did have a definition of supportive exploratory therapy that leads [minors with same-sex attractions] to be accepting and see themselves as a person of strength rather than a flawed person," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


My Three Daddies: California Eyes Multiple Parenting Law

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- California, the battleground state for the arguments for and against same-sex marriage, is now considering an unconventional law that would allow children to be legally granted more than two parents.

The bill -- SB1476 -- would apply equally to men and women, and to homosexual or heterosexual relationships. Proposed by State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, it has passed the Senate and awaits an Assembly vote.

Leno cites the evolving American family, which includes surrogacy arrangements, same-sex marriages and reproductive techniques that involve multiple individuals.

"The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than 'Ozzie and Harriet' families today," Leno told the Sacramento Bee, which first reported the story.

"We are not touching the definition of a parent under the current law," said Leno. "When a judge recognizes that a child is likely to find his or her way into foster care and if there is an existing parent who qualifies as a legal parent, why not have the law when it is required to protect the well-being of the child?"

Parents would have to qualify under all legal standards and agree on custody, visitation and child support before a judge could divide up responsibilities.

Several other states, including Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine and the District of Columbia, recognize more than two parents.

"Most children have at most two parents, but some children have more than two people in their lives who have been a child's parent in every way," says Leno in his fact sheet on the bill. "For example, a child raised from birth by a biological mother and a non-biological father may also have a relationship with his or her biological father.

"In such a situation, the child may consider both adults in the home to be parents, as well as his or her biological father. In such a case, it may be in the child's best interests to have a legally protected relationship with all three of the parental figures in his or her life."

Glenn T. Stanton, director of Global Family Formation Studies for the conservative group Focus on the Family, argues that the bill appears to advocate for children's rights, but in reality gives adults legal protection to create "radical families."

"We hear all this celebratory talk about 'new families,' but there is no sociological, psychological or medical data showing any of these new family forms have served to the elevate the general physical, mental, educational or developmental well-being of children in any meaningful way," said Stanton. "That job is best done for children by their own mother and father," he said.

But Leno argues that a new law would address more than just same-sex families, including one in which a man raises a nonbiological child with a woman, but the child also has a relationship with the biological father.

A lesbian couple, for example, might also want to include a male friend who provided sperm for the conception of their child as a legal parent.

Leno maintains that it is in the best interest of a child to designate multiple parents to provide financial support, health insurance and other state benefits.

Not to do so can have "disastrous emotional, psychological, and financial consequences for the child," according to Leno.

Such a law might serve not only same-sex families, but adoptive ones as well, where there may be a relationship with a biological parent.

However, Adam Pertman, executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, said situations where the law might be applicable are "pretty limited."

"Most people don't aim for this and don't need it," he said. "It's an arrangement that's created for specific circumstances -- but I don't see a big trend here."

"People in the adoption world get very concerned about a law like this," said Pertman. "One of the concerns they have about open adoptions is co-parenting and it simply is not. There are circumstances where there is a real need and individual cases where it serves the needs of the child. That should be the focus, to have a law that permits the child to get what he or she needs."

And some legal experts in California question the impact of such a law on an array of issues like tax deductions and wrongful death suits.

Leno acknowledges that the law might be applied in "rare circumstances" and only when it is required "for the best interests of the child."

"Some of the hyperbolic corners of the opposition are suggesting there could be four, six or eight parents," he said. "But I think that it will not be used when a child has too many parents, but when there are too few."

The bill was co-sponsored by the University of San Diego School of Law's Children's Advocacy Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Rob Schneider Speaks Out Against Childhood Vaccinations

Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- You can add Rob Schneider to the list of celebrities speaking out against childhood vaccinations.  The former Saturday Night Live star was among those attending a hearing last week on California bill AB2109. The bill, if passed, would require parents who decide not to vaccinate their kids to provide a signed statement from a doctor or qualified healthcare professional certifying that mom and/or dad were informed of the risks and benefits of childhood vaccination.

Speaking at the hearing to ABC News affiliate KXTV in Sacramento, Schneider -- who noted that his wife is pregnant -- declared that mandating informed consent to opt out of childhood vaccinations is "illegal.  You can't make people do procedures that they don't want. The parents have to be the ones who make the decisions for what's best for our kids. It can't be the government saying that."

Schneider went on to say that AB2109 was against the "Nuremberg Laws."  The Nuremberg Laws were antisemitic laws passed in Nazi Germany that paved the way for the Holocaust.  Schneider may have meant to say the Nuremberg Code, a set of post-WWII principles governing human experimentation.  The first principle is, ironically, informed consent.

Schneider also alleged that there's a link between childhood vaccinations and the rise in autism, as have others including fellow celebrity Jenny McCarthy. "The toxicity of these things -- we're having more and more side effects. We're having more and more autism," declares Schneider.  Any link between childhood immunizations and autism has been repeatedly discredited.

Schneider further says most children today are required to get some 70 vaccines, and declares, "The efficacy of these shots have not been proven."  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends children by the age of two receive 28 total doses of vaccine to be protected against 15 potentially fatal diseases, including polio, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and measles.

As it stands now, non-immunized kids in California can attend public school if their parents obtain a personal exemption, meaning they object to immunizations for religious or other philosophical reasons.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Voters in California Weigh Cigarette Tax to Fund Cancer Research

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- While you were watching the news-leading story of the recall election in Wisconsin, voters in California Tuesday were deciding whether to raise taxes on cigarettes to fund cancer research.

The tobacco fight on the West Coast has gotten the attention of a presidential primary. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds have spent almost $46 million on TV and radio ads against the proposed tax hike, which would be $1 per pack of cigarettes.

The initiative has brought about one of the most expensive election fights in recent memory, even though anti-tobacco advocates had spent just $3 million on advertising. Their effort, led by Lance Armstrong, included a parody ad that involved people saying things like: “I support big tobacco because they killed my wife. And that’s one less mouth to feed.”

The ballot question -- Proposition 29 -- was supported widely in California when it was announced, but the contest now appears to be much closer because of the influx of the ads from the tobacco industry. The industry’s campaign featured a doctor in a white smock speaking out against the proposed hike. After voters initially favored the tax by 37 points in one poll, a recent survey showed that lead had been cut down to 11 points.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio