Proponents are not conceding, but it does not look good for Proposition 29, the $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes to support cancer research. With all precincts reported, it was losing by about 63,000 votes. With nearly 1 million late absentees left to count, the results could still change. But it’s not promising.
What’s frustrating is that just three months ago, a statewide poll showed that two-thirds of California voters were inclined to support the tax. But then the tobacco industry jumped in, dumping $66 million into defeating it. Let me assure you, they did not do that because they’re concerned about your health or that, as their ads contend, they’re worried that you’re being over-regulated. They did it because raising taxes discourages kids from starting to smoke and encourages others to quit. And that, pure and simple, is bad for business.
The fact is that more than 60 percent of the states in the nation have a cigarette tax that is higher than California’s, which is just 87 cents a pack. Cigarette taxes have proven to be a very effective tool for encouraging people to quit smoking or, better yet, not to start at all.
From what I’ve heard, the argument that seemed to resonate with voters the most was that Proposition 29 was going to make a new “bureaucracy” and that California didn’t need any more government. It’s true that there was going to be a nine-member oversight committee that would oversee how the money would be spent. This is very similar to those committees that are established at the local level to oversee how tax measures and bond measures are spent. Why? Because if they didn’t create one, the opposition would be howling that there was no accountability for how the money would be spent. Big tobacco wins that argument either way.
And in the end, the companies that produce cigarettes such as Marlboro and Camel convinced nearly 2 million voters that it was better to maintain the status quo.
Too bad. They were just blowing smoke.
- Paul Gullixson