California voters to decide fate of Prop 29 cigarette tax on June 5

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Proposition 29 would increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, for a total per pack tax of $1.87, while also increasing the tax on other tobacco products. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the measure would raise $735 million annually for cancer- and tobacco-related diseases, leading supporters to maintain that it would save lives.

Jane Warner, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of California, says that Prop 29 requires 98 percent of the tax to be spent on research and on tobacco-use prevention and cessation programs.

A nine-member citizen panel members would be charged with overseeing the spending. Warner says the measure is also good for the state’s financial health, as it would help save some of the billions of dollars now spent in California on smoking-related illnesses.

"People have the right to smoke if they so choose to, but they don’t have the right to cost me money and they are," she said. "They are costing everyone in California $16 billion every year."

But opponents of the measure say Prop 29 is poorly conceived. Among them is David Spady, state director of Americans For Prosperity, which opposes the cigarette tax.

He said his group opposes the role of an unelected citizen’s panel in determining how the tax money would be spent, but they also oppose the motivation behind the tax.

"This idea of a user tax or a user fine is really nanny state legislation where you’re trying to force behavior change by making it more expensive," he said.

Taken to its logical conclusion, he says, the state should also then tax sodas and sugar and anything else known to be bad for health.

In recent weeks, voter support for Prop 29 has plummeted according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California which found in March that 67 percent of voters supported the measure — but found last week only 53 percent in support. The shift, they say, is due in large part to a $40 million campaign that includes a series of hard-hitting anti-Prop 29 advertisements.

The Anti-Prop 29 campaign is financed mostly by tobacco companies and it’s reportedly outspent the initiative’s supporters (include the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association and the American Heart Association) by about 4 to 1.

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