Foes and supporters of Measure B, which would require actors in L.A. County to wear condoms on adult film sets, may have trouble convincing voters to consider the issue.
When Los Angeles County voters go to the polls on election day, the ballot will include a question they've never seen before: Should pornographic movie performers be required to wear condoms during filming?
From now until Nov. 6, analysts say, supporters and opponents of Measure B could have a tricky time convincing them to even consider the point.
"Not only is it an issue that's not particularly important to voters, but it's way down the ballot," said Darry Sragow, a longtime political strategist and attorney unaffiliated with either side of the campaign. "Most voters may say, 'This is not an issue I care that strongly about, or this is an issue I don't know much about,' and they may take a pass."
On one side of the question is the L.A.-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which has been a crusading advocate for protecting porn stars from HIV. They have cast the issue as one that protects worker safety - like requiring construction workers to wear hard hats - and keeps the public safe from outbreaks of sexually transmitted disease.
Opposing Measure B is a lucrative adult film industry said to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in sales while providing jobs to thousands of actors, makeup artists, camera crews, caterers and the like. If the measure passes, some producers suggest, the business could simply move outside the county.
The cost of the law would be paid for by porn producers, who would have to purchase a public health permit, much like tattoo parlors. Violators would be subject to fines and misdemeanor criminal charges.
"It is a health and safety issue," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS foundation.
The AIDS group has lined up endorsements from health groups such as the Los Angeles County Medical Assn., while the porn industry has the support of the Valley Industry & Commerce Assn., which calls the measure "over-regulation."
A poll of 400 likely L.A. County voters conducted Oct. 2-3 for the pro-Measure B campaign found that 55% supported the condom requirement while 32% opposed it.
The AIDS group has poured $350,000 into the campaign to pass Measure B, paying for TV and newspaper ads, billboards and mailers. In addition, the campaign has spent more than $1 million to gather voter signatures so the initiative would qualify for the ballot.
One TV ad features two HIV-positive porn actors urging a yes vote. "No one else has to work without safety equipment. Why should performers in adult films?" asks Darren James, while Derrick Burts adds: "Stop the spread of diseases."
The porn industry has raised $111,375 for its "No on Government Waste Committee." Major funding has come from four porn producers: $75,000 from Manwin, a global adult entertainment company headquartered in Luxembourg and parent of Pornhub and Youporn, and $10,000 each from Vivid Entertainment of Los Angeles; Larry Flynt's Flynt Management Group of Beverly Hills; and PHE Inc. of North Carolina, which runs Adam & Eve, a leading erotic mail-order company and video production firm.
In mailers sent to voters, adult film producers have cast the issue as a "ridiculous waste of tax dollars," even though the measure is written to have enforcement paid by the filmmakers. "It's also unnecessary because the adult industry already has a strict, successful testing program," one mailer says.
James Lee, spokesman for Measure B's opponents, said the porn industry tried in 1998 to mandate condom use after sex film actresses tested positive for HIV. But the industry found that film sales fell by 30% across the board. The industry then required that porn stars be regularly tested to keep infected actors from working, a protocol they say works. They say they don't need the creation of an unwanted, ineffective county bureaucracy.
"People don't buy porn that features condoms," Lee said.
"If workplace safety comes at the expense of the task being performed, then it doesn't make sense to me," said Christian Mann, general manager of Evil Angel Video, warning that porn stars will leave the county.
He said when he lets his sons play Little League, he knows that they're at risk of being injured.
"I don't see that as a justification to outlaw Little League," he said. "The irony is that our industry is actually safer than Little League baseball."
Adult film actress Kayden Kross said she believed condom use for porn stars "should be a choice, not a mandate." She said she has a "huge amount of trust" in the testing protocol, but she acknowledged the risk. "There is some risk in having any sex," Kross said.
Backers of Measure B say the industry testing system has repeatedly failed. They note that performers can easily become infected between tests. Not only is the porn actor population at risk, but it's also members of the general public who have sex with them, Burts said.
It's easy for porn stars at the height of their career to think they're indestructible, said James, a prolific film actor who was in hundreds of movies from 1998 until he was infected in 2004.
"When you get something, trust me, you're going to regret it. Everyone is invincible now, but when you come crashing down and no one has your back, they're going to change their mind," James said. "As a performer, you're only as good as your last scene."
The idea that porn stars have a choice to use condoms is like saying "coal miners have a choice whether to go in the mines or not," said Dr. Jeffrey D. Klausner, a UCLA professor of medicine who backs Measure B. Klausner is a former director of STD prevention and control services in San Francisco.
"People unfortunately sometimes make these, quote, 'free choices,' and pay with their lives. Industry has a responsibility to protect workers," Klausner said.
Political strategist Sragow cautioned both sides on aspects of their campaigns.
Warning about a loss of porn jobs may not be persuasive among voters with a dim view of the porn industry, he said.
And ex-porn stars may not be the most effective spokespeople for the pro-Measure B campaign, he said. Research has shown voters respond to certain trusted messengers in TV ads, like doctors and nurses. "The message there could be, 'You can't be too safe about this.' … But that has to come from somebody who is not connected with the porn industry."