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Proposition 29 seeks cigarette-tax hike

Proposition 29 would hike the cigarette tax in California by a dollar to raise money for cancer research.
May 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's one of the most hotly debated initiatives on the ballot: Proposition 29 would hike the cigarette tax in California by a dollar. The idea is to raise money for cancer research, but those against it say there's no guarantee that money would stay in California.

It will cost another dollar per pack to light up if Prop. 29 passes. It raises the cigarette tax in California by a dollar to $1.87 per pack. That money would be spent to award grants for cancer research and other smoking-related diseases.

The tax would raise $735 million earmarked for research. It does move the state into the medical research business.

"We also don't want to do this on the backs of smokers. We are anti-tobacco, but we're certainly not anti-smoker," said Roman Bowser, American Health Association. "And this money will be used to help keep kids from smoking and to help adults quit."

Prop. 29 is opposed by taxpayer groups, which don't see the upside to ballot-box budgeting during a time of multi-billion-dollar state deficits.

"The question is, If we're going to have new tax revenue being raised from taxpayers in California, how are we prioritizing that money?" said David Spady, Americans For Prosperity. "Are we spending it on all the cuts that have recently been made to our healthcare system in the state of California? Is any of this money going to Healthy Families or Medi-Cal?"

Spady says his taxpayer group is not connected to the multi-million-dollar tobacco company campaign against the increase in the cigarette tax. He calls Prop. 29 "nanny state" legislation that's trying to dictate how citizens live their lives.

The proposition sets up a committee to oversee how the money is spent.

"There is no mandate in there, and they intentionally did that so that money can be spent wherever it needs to be spent on cancer research, even if that's outside the country or outside the state," said Spady.

Proponents say Proposition 29 would help keep people out of the hospital. It doesn't include money for treatment, only research. Coupled with the extra dollar per pack, proponents say it would stop 220,000 kids from starting to smoke and would help encourage 100,000 current smokers to stop smoking.

Proponents deny the charge that the money will be spent outside California.

"We wrote that very carefully," said Bowser. "The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, we wrote this very carefully to ensure that the money would be spent in California, and California is mentioned over 30 times in the proposition language."

California is one of only three states that has not passed a tobacco tax increase in the last 10 years. Now voters are being asked if they want to increase the tax and mandate that all the money go to tobacco-related illnesses.


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