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Would a tobacco tax hike convince smokers to quit?

Isaiah Atkinson smokes a cigarette in front of the San Francisco Centre on May 31, 2011 in San Francisco.
Isaiah Atkinson smokes a cigarette in front of the San Francisco Centre on May 31, 2011 in San Francisco.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

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Next Tuesday, Californians will vote on Proposition 29, which would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 87 cents to $1.87.

Supporters say the money would go to cancer research and anti-smoking programs that would further lower smoking rates.

But a recent federal study shows California uses a very small proportion of its tobacco funds on actually fighting smoking.

Even so, smoking rates in California have dropped to the second-lowest in the country. What could have accounted for the decline? Were cigarette taxes enough disincentive? Or were there other factors?

Anti-tobacco advocates maintain the cigarette taxes are the most effective smoking prevention tool. Groups like the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids say that for every 10 percent increase in cigarette prices, smoking among kids - who can least afford a price hike --goes down.

Media campaigns also influence smoking behavior, says Dr. Stan Glantz, an anti-smoking advocate at UCSF. He says so-called "industry denormalization" ads promote distrust of the tobacco industry.

Glantz says that Hollywood is also playing a role in reducing smoking rates. In 2010, smoking scenes in the top-grossing movies fell by nearly half over the five prior years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seeing adults reject smoking, Glantz says, is a better way to reduce smoking rates in kids than targeting campaigns at them.

There is also the fact that smokers have a dwindling number of places to smoke publicly. Every year, more bans go into effect in places like parks and beaches. An anti-smoking ordinance took effect in March on Hermosa Beach, with fines ranging from $100 to $500.