By Steve Heilig, MPH
Originally posted on sfgate.com, June 4, 2012.
Did you pay any taxes last year? If so, and even if you don’t smoke tobacco, some of your money went to pay for the costs of tobacco-related disease—and helped put money into tobacco industry coffers as well.
If you don’t like that deal, Proposition 29 won’t fix it, but it will help.
Just in case there is one reader out there who is still undecided regarding Proposition 29, here are a few concise items to consider.
- I’ve followed the debate closely, and posted about it once before. There has been a heated debate in medical/public health forums about some of the specifics of the proposition. I’ve read many of the online comments on many stories to see if I’ve missed some compelling argument against raising the tobacco tax in our state. And I’m left with this impression: Proposition 29′s passage would represent a victory of good over evil.
- We all must know the basics by now—tobacco kills, is marketed aggressively to kids and the poor, and many of the resulting health costs are borne by taxpayers. Prop 29 would level the playing field a bit by getting California into the mid-zone of tobacco tax rates. It would deter some smokers from starting or get them to quit. The research would help us find better prevention and treatment. The real choice is thus: Do we all want to keep paying the costs of smoking while subsidizing the tobacco industry’s profits, or reduce the number of smokers and find better ways to prevent and treat tobacco-related disease?
- It’s not even a new tax—it’s an increase in an old one. It’s not an unfair one—the current “arrangement” is unfair, especially to the poorer and younger people who are more likely to be smokers. The revenue would not go out of state, the net economic result would be positive… and so on, all contrary to the tobacco-industry propaganda being widely parroted with help from tobacco funds. Most important is the fact that a tax increase will lead to there being less smokers.
- Big Tobacco knows all this as well as anyone—they would not spend so many millions of dollars, buying votes and advocates to fight 29, if they did not know it would deter smoking. The list of otherwise respectable organizations who have been bribed by tobacco funds is sad and sordid, as detailed here and here.
- Big Tobacco’s strategy is detailed in an internal memo from the last time a tobacco tax increase was proposed: ‘The tobacco industry is currently losing the public relations war with the general public… the only way to defeat any of the hostile tax increase measures currently in circulation for the November ballot in California, is to build a coalition of groups more favorable to the public without the fingerprints of tobacco on it.‘”
- In other words, they know they have to use deceit and lies. My favorite op-ed on Proposition 29 came from the Solano-Napa Times-Herald, titled “Big Tobacco has No Shame”. They note: “The shameful, deceitful, irresponsible ad campaign by Big Tobacco on California’s Proposition 29 seems so transparent that one would think it was a theatrical satire rather than a duel to the death. But a duel to the death it is.”
I may be jaded and perhaps biased (although I should add, I would receive nothing from the revenues Prop 29 would gather), but I still think marketing disease and death is evil. Besides that, I don’t like paying for it, but I do think helping tobacco addicts is a good thing, and preventing addiction even better. And so, I voted yes on Proposition 29.