Correction: Proposition 29 will create an additional $1 tax on cigarettes, bringing the total to $1.87, not $1 as originally printed. This correction is reflected within the article.
It’s true that California isn’t in the best financial situation right now. We Californians have a reputation for excitedly approving spending measures and then turning our noses up at the tax increases required to fund them. But Proposition 29 isn’t a high-speed rail — it’s a medical initiative that’s in danger of being vilified as government excess.
On June 5, Californians will vote on Prop. 29. If passed, the measure would levy an additional $1 tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in California, bringing the cigarette tax to $1.87 per pack. Revenue would go largely toward cancer research and maintaining existing anti-tobacco campaigns and initiatives. Oversight of the funds would be conducted by a slew of state-appointed representatives with medical and cancer research backgrounds, and three University of California chancellors from UC Berkeley, San Francisco and Santa Cruz.
The measure is projected to raise approximately $735 million annually, with 60 percent of the funds going to research, 15 percent going to facilities and equipment for said research, 20 percent to maintaining anti-tobacco and cigarette campaigns via the Department of Public Health and the Department of Education, 3 percent to law enforcement, and no more than 2 percent to administrative duties.
The main argument posed by opponents of the bill is that Prop. 29 is a prime example of special-interest government spending at a time when the California general fund could really use a boost. The opponents of the measure include Phillip Morris, the largest tobacco company in the United States; and Grover Norquist, the most virulent anti-tax crusader in American politics today. Other opponents of the bill argue that the revenue raised should be deposited in the general fund.
Here, cancer research is being painted as a partisan issue, an appeal to emotional interests. But the facts are as follows: Cigarettes and tobacco products cause cancer and other health issues, which drive up healthcare costs for the state of California. It just makes sense to raise a specifically targeted tax to combat those costs. Additionally, California hasn’t raised taxes on cigarettes since 1999, and is well below the national average of $1.46 per pack in taxes.
It’s worth noting that opponents of the bill have vastly outspent advocates. The Pro-29 camp has spent roughly $8.5 million, while the opposition has spent nearly $40 million (of which almost $24 million comes straight from Phillip Morris). Opponents aren’t attacking its medical legitimacy or its necessity. They’re making the argument that because California has other budget issues that need addressing, we shouldn’t raise any targeted taxes. But there will always be some program left underfunded, and that shouldn’t stop us from tackling an issue that affects hundreds of millions of people worldwide.
Every major contributor to the No on 29 campaign is a tobacco company or cigarette manufacturer. These corporations have a history of spending vast amounts of money in order to protect their business interests by tapping into the American anti-tax sentiment — they did the same thing back in 2006 when the last cigarette tax initiative, Prop. 86, was narrowly defeated.
Let’s not let them win this June.