Cigarette smoking is a disgusting and unhealthy habit. There are no good reasons to start smoking and many good reasons to quit.
Likewise, we don't have much use for the big tobacco companies that spend millions to entice young people to smoke, starting them on what well may become a lifetime addiction.
All that said, we don't support Proposition 29, which would raise the tax on cigarettes sold in California by $1 a pack.
Our beef with Proposition 29 is not that it would discourage people from smoking by making cigarettes and other tobacco products more expensive, but that instead of using this new tax revenue to address one of the state's many unmet needs, it would create a new semi- independent bureaucracy and a mammoth new medical research program.
The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that this higher cigarette tax -- which would be effective in October -- would raise $735 million a year by 2013-14. The amount would decline in future years if, as predicted, fewer people smoked.
This tax revenue would not be available for kindergarten-12th grade schools, community colleges, universities or even current health care services to the needy -- including smokers. Instead, 75 percent of it would go to create Hope 2010 -- a major new research effort into the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cures for cancer and tobacco-related diseases. Sixty percent of that would be for the research, which might or might not be conducted in California, and 15 percent for new buildings and equipment.
Twenty percent of Proposition 29 revenue would go to bolster the state Department of Public Health's programs to persuade people to never start smoking or to stop smoking. We might note that 25 cents per pack of the current
87 cents-per-pack state tax on cigarettes already goes to tobacco education and education efforts.
A very small portion of Proposition 29 revenue would go to law enforcement, but it could only be used for efforts to reduce cigarette smuggling, tobacco tax evasion and illegal sales of tobacco to minors.
Proposition 29 resembles the stem-cell research initiative approved by voters eight years ago. The big difference is that the federal government was stalling on stem-cell research. That's not the case with cancer research, which has major funding within the National Institutes of Health and many other programs.
And we've seen serious problems with the oversight of stem-cell research money -- conflicts of interest, poor accountability and more. Proposition 29 creates another bureaucracy where that is likely to happen. The new California Cancer Research Life Sciences Innovation Trust Fund would be overseen by a nine-member committee consisting of three UC chancellors, three representatives of the state's federally recognized cancer centers, another physician and two people from advocacy groups. There would be an annual audit of the agency, but no clear way for the state -- the Legislature, the governor or anyone -- to fix any flaws or problems that became evident.
Of even greater concern to us is that Proposition 29 is another example of ballot-box budgeting -- earmarking tax revenue that can only be used for a narrow purpose and ignoring higher and more pressing priorities for the state as a whole.
Californians have too often bought into these emotional appeals. We like to tax other people, be they smokers or the so-called rich. Proposition 10, approved in 1998, raised cigarette taxes by 50 cents a pack to pay for early childhood development programs. Proposition 49, which voters supported in 2002, carved out money for after-school programs.
We, as voters, have to stop attaching so many strings to spending that there's nowhere near enough for truly vital services -- schools, universities, law enforcement and prosecutions. The midst of a prolonged recession is no time to be creating a major new state agency.
We don't like being on the same side as Big Tobacco, which is pouring millions into fighting this measure, and we do not in any way endorse smoking, but Proposition 29 is not good public policy or governance. We recommend a "no" vote on it.