A new California ballot initiative would place a tax on cigarettes of $1 per pack, with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products.
Advocates for the California Cancer Research Act said it would generate about $855 million in its first year and decline slightly each year after.
The state’s current cigarette tax is 87 cents per pack and is levied on cigarette distributors who supply them to retail stores. The proceeds are used for both General Fund and certain special fund purposes.
In August 2010, the act received more than the 433,971 signatures necessary to qualify for the statewide ballot.
The act could be put on the November 2011 ballot if there is a special election. Still, it is expected to be on the February or June 2012 Presidential Primary ballot.
Annually, $468 million of the potential tax revenue would be spent on research of cancer- and tobacco-related disease, $117 million on facilities and capital equipment for research, $156 million on tobacco prevention and cessation, $23 million on anti-tobacco law enforcement and $16 million on administration.
Seventy-five million dollars of the revenue would go to insuring that Proposition 99, Proposition 10, General Fund and breast cancer programs, funded by existing tobacco taxes, are not negatively impacted by the tax increase.
David Kline, vice president of communications and research for the California Tax Association, said the act would make the state’s budget problem worse because people will buy less tobacco.
“There’d be a declining revenue resource from tobacco,” Kline said. “It would create a new bureaucracy that would require ongoing spending. This large tax increase hits lower income people particularly hard. There’s also a provision that short changes schools.”
Kline added that his group opposes the provision that tax dollars from the act could be spent outside of the state or country, because they feel they should be spent in the state.
Mark Friedman, executive director of the Alameda County First 5 program, said it is a misconception that the act would take funding away from programs like First 5.
“I’m a strong supporter of the act,” Friedman said. “There’s no negative impact since there’s a provision that would restore our funding as cigarette sales go down.”
Paul Knepprath, vice president of the American Lung Association of California, also said the initiative has no downsides.
“This act will fund a whole new generation of cancer research,” Knepprath said. “Smoking is still the number one public health problem.”
The tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris are opposed to the act, along with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Taxpayers Against Out-of-Control Spending.
Tim Gibbs, a field director for the act and director of campaign initiatives for the American Cancer Society, said he is not concerned about when the act ends up on the ballot.
“Whenever it’s on the ballot, we will be ready to take on tobacco companies,” Gibbs said. “Voters have shown support for the initiative. We have the truth on our side, even if tobacco companies try to distort it. We know it will save lives and keep kids from smoking.”
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached email@example.com.