On Tuesday, Californians will vote on a ballot initiative for a $1-a-pack cigarette tax. While raising cigarette taxes does discourage smoking, especially among teenagers, support for Proposition 29 has waned.
That might have something to do with the $47 million anti-Prop. 29 advertising campaign, largely funded by the tobacco industry. They have outspent the initiative's proponents four to one, causing considerable frustration.
"You think of California as a healthy, progressive state leading in tobacco cessation," said Chris Lehman, one of the organizers behind the initiative. "It's just not. And it's not for lack of trying."
California's current cigarette tax, 87 cents, is only about half the national average. California is also one of only three states that have not raised the tax over the past decade. As John R. Seffrin, chief executive of the American Cancer Society puts it, "They are overdue."
The tax would raise $735 million, but all of that money would be used toward funding cancer research. The plan's organizers explained that they felt they would have an easier time getting the initiative passed if people knew where the money was going.
But the timing is unfortunate: just last month Governor Jerry Brown announced that California is facing a $16 billion deficit. Opponents of Prop. 29 have used that to their advantage, noting that the tax increase would do nothing to benefit a state in dire need of financial relief.
In case you were wondering, supporters of the new cigarette tax include the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association. Those funding the massive campaign against it: Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and the California Republican Party.