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The strategy didn’t just stir doubt in the minds of voters.

Several major newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, opposed the measure while expressing general support for such sin taxes and reluctance to side with tobacco companies. They argued that the revenue should go directly to the state, which now faces a $15.2 billion deficit.

The result was reminiscent a 2006 California cigarette tax measure that led by wide margins in early polling until tobacco companies spent $66 million to defeat it with ads featuring physicians.

It was unclear Friday whether the failure of Prop 29 constituted the narrowest defeat of a statewide ballot measure in California’s history. Previously, the closest vote in the past two decades was on school bond measure 1B in 1994, which failed 49.6 percent to 50.4, according to Secretary of State spokeswoman Shannan Velayas. The second closest was another tobacco tax measure, which passed 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent in 1998.

California was once at the forefront of smoking restrictions and taxes, but the famously health-conscious state has not raised tobacco taxes since 1998.

Missouri voters are expected to weigh in on a tobacco tax increase in November and similar taxes are working their way through the legislative process in the Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Illinois.

The overwhelming majority of recent tobacco taxes across the nation have been approved in statehouses, not at the polls.