This proposition seeks to raise the taxes on cigarette sales from $1.88 ($1 of which goes to the federal government) to $2.88 per pack of cigarette (and automatic corresponding raises in tax on other tobacco products). The money is earmarked for cancer and tobacco-related disease research and prevention programs, law enforcement, and the creation of an administrative bureaucracy to oversee distributions. Overall, Politomuse feels this initiative presents a solution searching for a problem and for that reason we urge a no vote.
It is hard to argue in favor of cigarette smokers and even more distasteful to find oneself siding with “big tobacco.” Unfortunately, we feel that is what the proponents of this initiative are counting on. This measure raises funds to be funneled into a newly created government entity called the California Cancer Research Life Sciences Innovation Trust Fund (CCRLS). The CCRLS then has five subsidiary funds (see voter guide pp. 14-15) that set forth percentage allocations for monies into various types of tobacco related disease (1) research, (2) research facilities, and (3) prevention as well as two smaller funds for (4) administration and (5) law enforcement . The individual funds then allocate the monies to different research entities. A newly formed committee consisting of nine individuals 4 of which are appointed by the Governor, three of which are UC Chancellors, and two of which are appointed by the director of the Department for Public Health. The Committee decides how monies are distributed out of the five funds (consistent with their stated objectives).
The Opposition to this proposition correctly states that no money from this initiative would go to treat cancer patients. While that is true, we think it misses the point. The problem with this initiative is that it isn’t really focused on addressing a particular issue. It does not funnel money into public health care, treatment or even research. Instead, it appears to create something of a slush-fund for a few very distinct groups who are obviously keenly interested in passing the measure. Tracing the money and the CCRLS committee membership is telling. First, only 20% of funds go to an established public health system (the Department of Public health’s smoking cessation programs). 5% of funds oddly go to law enforcement – something us cynical politomuses suspect might be more of an effort to curry political support than anything related to curing cancer. The remaining 75% of funds go to various grants and loans that the CCRLS committee will dole out – back into the industry from whence the committee members came. Moreover, after the research institutions (some of which are likely to be affiliated with the UC entities’ chancellors that are sitting on the committee) receive their anticipated several hundred million dollars, this initiate does not have any provision requiring transferring or even sharing any intellectual property rights stemming from any discoveries. In short, this money is truly intended to be a gift, not an investment.
The total tax load on cigarette packs if this measure passes would be around 50% of the total cost to consumers ($5 current average cost per pack of cigarettes and assumed $6 average cost with increase based on Legislative Analyst data). While we generally approve of “sin taxes,” because they use the negative aspect of taxation as an intentional disincentive to conduct that which society wishes to discourage, we are uncomfortable with a nearly 50% tax rate on this particular product that funnels money toward a pre-set body of special interests with no real indication that the money is being directed toward the area of greatest need. If these funds were instead directed toward funding existing underfunded medical programs at the state or federal level we would probably support it. But this initiative instead strikes us as a prototypical special interest group seeking to funnel money away from a disfavored class of people (smokers) into the pockets of a particular group. We do not think that is good policy. We would urge voters to vote down this initiative that would force a group of consumers to “donate” money to these worthy causes and instead direct their positive inclination to help those suffering from cancer inward and themselves donate to one of these top-rated charities: http://www.bcrfcure.org/ , http://www.cancerresearch.org/, http://bcconnections.org/, or any of hundreds of others.