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Proposed cigarette tax to fund cancer research

February 28, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Lance Armstrong is joining top-level cancer researchers backing a measure to raise California's cigarette tax by a dollar a pack. Voters could decide on the plan as early as June.

Seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong is joining the fight to fund cancer research in California and save lives.

"Well, I continue to be a person as a cancer survivor who hates this disease," said Armstrong. "I hate cancer. It's real simple. And no matter what we have to do in any state, in any country, to help fight the disease, then we'll do it."

Armstrong and former state Senator Don Perata (D-Oakland) are campaigning for the California Cancer Research Act. It's a ballot initiative that asks voters to approve a dollar-a-pack cigarette tax. It will appear on the ballot if California has a special election in June.

Perata insists the issue stands a better chance at the polls than it does in the state legislature, where it would need a two-thirds majority to pass.

"The last 14 efforts to go to the ballot were all defeated by Big Tobacco. So this is going to be a fight," said Perata.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the initiative would raise about $780 million; $600 million would go to cancer research at leading institutions, and save billions in smoking-related healthcare costs. It would also prevent nearly 229,000 California kids from becoming adult smokers.

The initiative would also force about 118,000 Californian adults to quit smoking.

"It's a nasty habit. So we all have to quit," said smoker Jerry Minassian.

"I smoke occasionally. And most smokers I think deep down want to quit anyway and in New York a pack of cigarettes is about $11. So I think here one dollar is plenty of room," said smoker Justin Goldberg.

If California does not have a special election in June the initiative will appear on the February 2012 ballot.

In a statement, Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, said: "Higher taxes are simply not the answer in California. California remains one of the highest taxed states in America. California voters have repeatedly rejected these so-called sin taxes and we anticipate they will do the same again."