Tobacco companies are spending tens of millions of dollars to confuse and mislead us about Proposition 29, a voter initiative to raise the price of their products. We shouldn't let their tactics distract us from the key questions about this important proposal on the June ballot.
Who will benefit most from Proposition 29? Younger Californians will benefit most. They are targeted by tobacco companies, who know that almost one-fifth of children are current smokers by the time they leave high school, and nearly 90 percent of adult smokers began at or before age 18.
The $1-per-pack tobacco user fee of Proposition 29, the California Cancer Research Act, encourages price-sensitive customers -- often young people -- to think even more carefully about spending their money on cigarettes. This is part of a public health, primary prevention approach to reducing tobacco-related disease.
Who will be hurt most by the approval of Proposition 29? Tobacco-related businesses will be hurt most. That's why they're spending so many millions to keep current customers and cultivate new ones.
Are there other benefits of Proposition 29?
Yes. I support the ballot measure first and foremost as public health improvement, but also because brings in new funds to support health research. Its text clearly describes the first priority for new tobacco tax funds as support of "biomedical, epidemiological, behavioral, health services, and other research in California ... regarding ... cancer, cardiovascular disease, emphysema, and other tobacco-related illnesses."
Recent opposition campaign mailers warning against research funds being sent out of state are just the latest example of deceitful nonsense that no sensible person who reads the act would believe.
What happens if Proposition. 29 is not approved? Nobody knows exactly what next steps will be taken. Some state legislators may try to achieve a two-third vote for a new tobacco user fee supporting our general fund. But it's no coincidence that California's major tobacco tax increases have come from voter initiatives, not the legislative process.
One lesson I've learned from working on health issues in the California Legislature is that the tobacco industry may not be generally popular, but they have a strong record of killing legislative actions that threaten their profits.
The bottom line is that Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. are throwing out a dizzying mix of misleading assertions, hoping to misdirect our attention away from a public health effort to discourage smoking, especially among youths and young adults.
Let's look through the tobacco industry's smoke screen by staying focused on the key issues of Proposition 29.
Kathryn Sáenz Duke has spent three decades working in California on public health and health policy. She is a resident of Alameda.