What’s to like about taxes? Most people view them at best as a necessary evil to help pay for robust government services — a public benefit. But cigarette taxes are an anomaly. In their case, the tax itself is a public benefit. Proposition 29, which would place a $1 levy on each pack of cigarettes sold in California, would serve the common good by making cigarettes more expensive.
Economists have demonstrated conclusively that taxes on cigarettes are an effective tool for reducing smoking rates, which not only benefits the health of current and potential smokers but clears the air for people who would otherwise be exposed to secondhand smoke. Smoking, the single biggest cause of premature death in the United States, costs California taxpayers billions annually in medical care to treat people with tobacco-related diseases through Medi-Cal, Medicare and other public health programs. And California’s cigarette tax, at 87 cents per pack, is well below the national average of $1.46.
Voters also should be concerned about the lack of accountability under Proposition 29. The nine-member board of the new agency would comprise representatives from three University of California campuses and three of the state’s federally recognized cancer centers, as well as a physician from an academic medical center and two members from advocacy groups. It would have no one representing the public, no one to stand up for the idea that taxpayer money should be spent efficiently and fairly, to ensure that salaries aren’t exorbitant and that money doesn’t get sent out of state, among other things. Although there are rules preventing a board member from voting on a grant application from his or her own organization, there is too much opportunity for mutual hand-washing when it comes to awarding funds. This came up as a criticism of the stem-cell agency when, by 2010, nearly $1 billion had been granted to institutions with seats on the board. The tobacco research agency would be audited annually, but what would be the point? The state would be powerless to change the agency’s ways even if it found serious problems.
Tobacco companies are contributing more than $20 million to the campaign to defeat Proposition 29, outspending the pro-tax campaign — which is supported by bicycling star and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong — by more than 5 to 1. We couldn’t disagree more with their reasons for doing so, and it makes us uncomfortable to agree with them at all, but from our perspective, this initiative takes perfectly good tax money and misspends it; we’d rather see an alternative proposal that hikes the cigarette tax but spends the money more wisely. We recommend a no vote on Proposition 29.
The physician spokesperson in the ads fro the tobacco companies is partially correct. Here is the ad:
But, any increase in taxes should be on a federal level, so there is no bootlegging of cigarettes between the states. Plus, the funds raised should be accountable to a recognized and exisiting government health regulating body.
No on Proposition 29.