Like many in California, the proposal on Tuesday's ballot to increase the tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack is a difficult issue for us.
As California's economy continues to languish, we are reluctant to support such a significant tax increase as Proposition 29 proposes. On the other hand, any proposition that Big Tobacco is willing to spend $40 million to help defeat must have some merit.
After a difficult review, we conclude that, while far from perfect, Proposition 29 has enough redeeming qualities to warrant our support.
When all the campaign rhetoric is stripped away we cannot ignore one important truth: There is strong and mounting empirical evidence that raising tobacco taxes reduces smoking. That, in turn, will save California taxpayers billions of dollars in medical costs, not to mention sparing millions of people the misery of addiction.
Simply put, cancer is a societal menace, and it must be thwarted by any means necessary.
Some critics of Proposition 29 have argued that the money it raises should not be earmarked specifically for cancer research, but instead should go to the general fund to help pay for education.
We do not believe that is sound or fair fiscal policy. Smokers alone should not be made to bear the costs of California's crisis in school funding. That is a cost we all should pay. However, we do feel that asking smokers to help pay for the extensive public costs of their habit is
One of the most laughable criticisms leveled at Proposition 29 is the parochial whine that some of the research money raised may go "out of state."
Oh, horror or horrors. While that is possible, a state that features such research powerhouses as Stanford University, UCSF, UCLA and UC San Diego will attract the lion's share of the research dollars.
Besides, does a cancer cure need to be a wholly owned product of California? Are we looking for franchising rights? Would it matter to you if the remission in your child's cancer was caused by research in the Golden State or at St. Jude's in Memphis, Tenn.?
We didn't think so.
There is solid data from other tobacco tax increases that indicate adding $1 to the per-pack tax in California would cause 118,000 adults to quit smoking and, perhaps more important, would prevent 228,000 young Californians from becoming addicts. To us, that is the crux of the issue.
The state's current tobacco tax is just 87 cents a pack, far below the national average of $1.46 -- and even if Proposition 29 passes, California still would have the 25th highest tax in the nation.
So why hasn't the Legislature raised the tax? Oh, it has tried. And tried -- 33 times in the past 30 years. It succeeded only once, in 1993, adding a paltry 2 cents a pack for breast cancer research.
The Legislature's paralysis is a tribute to the lobbying power of Big Tobacco, which spends about $10 million a year courting California lawmakers. So it is up to voters. Proposition 29 will reduce smoking and save lives. Vote yes.