Cell phones, Juul, pregnancy, and Lou Holtz’s leadership lesson

Good morning, California.

“We can’t have two Californias.”—Lenny Mendonca, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief economic and business adviser, to the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson for a story about booming Bakersfield’s cool side. Bakersfield Sound fans knew it all along.

What’s ahead for your phone

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

California is about to take center stage in the proposed $26.5 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, a deal that would reshape the wireless industry and the San Joaquin town of Kingsburg.

If the merger goes forward, there’d be three, not four, major wireless companies. The new entity could compete with AT&T and Verizon, and would have 127 million customers.

The U.S. Department of Justice is expected to rule as soon as this week on the merger. Federal regulators have approved it.

But wait: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last month sued in New York to block the merger, saying it would “result in a compressed market with fewer choices and higher prices.”

The California Public Utilities Commission also must rule. Similar commissions in other states have approved the merger.

T-Mobile and Sprint promise:

  • Expanded 5G service.
  • Upgraded service to fairgrounds that serve as evacuation centers in disasters.
  • Free internet for low-income people.
  • A 1,000-employee customer service center in Kingsburg, 30 miles south of Fresno.

Lenny Mendonca, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s chief economic adviser, issued a statement when the center was announced: “It is exciting to see the growing trend of employers taking advantage of the workforce opportunities in the Central Valley.”

The Communications Workers of America opposes the merger. T-Mobile is a nonunion operation.

Money matters: 

  • AT&T, not a fan of the merger, has contributed $413,000 to California politics this year, including $125,000 to the California Democratic Party on July 15.
  • Verizon gave $40,000 to the Democratic Party in July
  • T-Mobile gave $20,000 to the Democratic Party in April.

Juul seeks credibility

California Tobacco Control Branch

E-cigarette giant Juul Labs has hired a prominent UC researcher and addiction expert to help curb youth vaping. Critics say the move is a strategy straight from the tobacco industry’s playbook.

California Healthline reported that Dr. Mark Rubinstein, of UC San Francisco’s Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, has joined Juul, to the dismay of some of his former colleagues. 

  • Stanford professor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, who helped train Rubinstein: “Even if you believe in harm reduction, to go work for a tobacco company … to me goes against everything that anybody doing control should believe in.”

Vince Willmore, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “We shouldn’t be fooled: Juul created the youth e-cigarette epidemic and refuses to take responsibility for it.”

Context: Juul hired Rubinstein as it battles efforts in its headquarters city of San Francisco and in Livermore to ban e-cigarettes, and as legislation makes its way through the Legislature aimed at curbing vaping of nicotine products by people under age 21.

War on youth vaping

photo illustration of a young person smoking.
An Assembly bill would limit sales of flavored e-cigarettes.

The American Cancer Society’s political arm is denouncing legislation intended to stamp out youth vaping as a “complete sham.”

Assembly Bill 1639 by Assemblymen Adam Gray, a Merced Democrat, and Jordan Cunningham, a San Luis Obispo Republican, would limit sales of flavored products to vape and tobacco shops where people under age 21 would not be permitted, and to online retailers that use age verification technology.

  • The state would conduct sting operations to enforce laws against sales to minors.
  • Under-age users would face penalties, and shops that sell to them would face loss of their licenses.

Tim Gibbs, of the American Cancer Society Action Network: “This bill does not hold the industry accountable. JUUL, who has largely ruled this epidemic, gets off.”

The bill, which is intended as a compromise, would be a retreat from earlier legislation that would have banned flavored tobacco products outright. That effort failed.

Weed and pregnancy

Containers of marijuana flower on display at Hi Fidelity in Berkeley.

Marijuana use during pregnancy is on the rise in Northern California, despite links between its use and low birth weight, Kaiser Permanente researchers have found. 

The study published in the Journal of the America Medical Association looked at 367,400 pregnancies between 2009-2017, finding:

  • Cannabis use during pregnancy jumped to 3.48% from 1.95%.
  • The rate increase most rapidly among pregnant women who reported daily use.
  • Lower-income women, African-Americans and younger women reported the highest prevalence of cannabis use.

Kelly Young-Wolff, a Kaiser Permanente Division of Research scientist and lead author, said use likely is even higher, because women may be unwilling to disclose their substance use to medical professionals.

  • Young-Wolf: “No amount of cannabis has been shown to be safe during pregnancy. We do know that it crosses the placenta and reaches the fetus.”

Dr. Nancy Goler, MD, a Kaiser obstetrician/gynecologist and co-author: “There is an urgent need to better understand the effects of prenatal cannabis exposure as cannabis becomes legalized in more states and more widely accepted and used.”

No legislation is pending on the topic in Sacramento. 

  • California law says packaging must include a warning: “Cannabis use while pregnant or breastfeeding may be harmful.”
  • The California Department of Public Health cautions against cannabis use during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
  • Cannabis warnings are far less harsh than warnings for tobacco use while pregnant.

A leadership lesson

California’s state auditor thought better of paying $10,000, plus $1,500 in expenses, to 82-year-old former Notre Dame football coach Lou Holtz, a Florida resident and Donald Trump supporter, so the staff could hear his wisdom about leadership.

  • A flier for the July 12 event reads: “Lou Holtz was able to take college football programs from the bottom to the very top. In ‘Game plan for success,’ Lou demonstrates how organizations can accomplish anything with good leadership, planning and teamwork.”

Margarita Fernandez, spokeswoman for Auditor Elaine Howle, said auditors must complete continuing education, and “state rules require some of our staff to have leadership training.”

But then: “Some staff raised concerns a few days before Mr. Holtz was scheduled to speak, and to be sensitive to those staff, we decided to cancel it.”

Holtz is a Hoosier State hero for leading Notre Dame to the college football championship in 1988. He endorsed Trump ahead of the Indiana primary in May 2016, a victory that ensured Trump’s nomination.

Holtz spoke at a luncheon in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention in 2016, and was quoted in the Daily Beast as saying of immigrants

  • “I don’t want to become you. I don’t want to speak your language, I don’t want to celebrate your holidays, I sure as hell don’t want to cheer for your soccer team.”

P.S. Holtz sued the Daily Beast contending his comments were taken out of context, that the headline was inaccurate, and that he had lost speaking engagements as a result of the coverage.

Commentary at CalMatters

William L. Rukeyser, former reporter and communications specialist: College football and basketball players are hard workers and deserve to be paid that way. Unfortunately for the vast majority of them, the teams they work for are as close to the majors as they’ll ever get. Many will leave the halls of academe without a degree and without a future. They deserve better.

Gregory Favre, CalMatters board member: Agree or disagree with his politics, H. Ross Perot collected the most votes ever (nearly 20%) for an independent candidate who ran on his own.

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