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California’s attempt to raise the cigarette tax by $1.00 failed by less than a percentage point. 50.3 percent opposed the tax and 49.7 supported it. Proposition 29 planned to use the money generated from the tax to fund cancer research and anti-smoking programs, as well as replenish funds for anti-smoking campaigns. The hope was to raise around $700 million per year.
The initiative would raise the tax to $1.87 per pack, only the 16th highest in the country. However, raising taxes in other states, such as New York, has effectively lowered the amount of cigarettes bought, especially by young people. Medical News Today reports “Each ten percent increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about seven percent.” Officials speculated that the tax would lower youth smoking by 13.7 percent, along with convincing thousands of others to quit smoking, and a larger number never to start.
A previous cigarette tax, Proposition 86, which would have raised the tax by $2.60 per pack, was defeated in 2006. The tax has not been raised since 2000, holding the cigarette tax at $.87 for twelve years.
According to Balletpedia.org, supporters included Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and others. Opponents included the California Taxpayers Association, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity.
Phillip Morris led the Tobacco Companies on a massive campaign against the initiative, pumping millions of dollars into advertising that dropped support from two-thirds in March to less than half during the ballot reading on June 5.
According to the LA Times, Morris and his company conducted a classic “red herring” technique, diverting the attention away from the beneficial effects of the initiative and drew attention to where the money was going to go. They claim the goal of Proposition 29 is too narrow, and won’t solve many of the problems that California currently faces, such as a lack of funding for schools and roads. The Tobacco companies argued that cancer is only a small problem in comparison and that the money should be used in other ways to help the state.
Teresa Casazza of the California Taxpayers Association, said “Proposition 29’s good intentions are overshadowed by the fact that California simply cannot afford another billion-dollar government boondoggle to create another wasteful spending program.”
A majority of Californians support the tax for the obvious benefits, but enough were swayed by the opposing campaign to stop the law from passing.
Armstrong told the New York Times, “the defeat of this life saving initiative is a genuine tragedy. Big Tobacco lied to voters to protect its profits and spend $50 million to ensure it can continue peddling its deadly products to California kids.”
There is no doubt that the debate will continue with the next election and a new proposition in the hope of lowering the number of cigarette smokers.