Public opinion on Prop 29 shifts amidst ad blitz


A Public Policy Institute poll shows support for Prop 29 is at 53 percent, down 14 points since March. The slip in support coincides with ad campaigns financed by the tobacco industry bankrolling the opposition. Prop 29 would make smoking more expensive. If passed, it would add a dollar tax to every pack of cigarettes bringing the total tax to $1.87. The ads for and against it are everywhere.

"It imposes nearly a billion dollars in new taxes on California," one television ad says.

"Prop 29 will save lives, keep kids from smoking, and support cancer research," claims another.

The tobacco tax would raise an estimated $735 million a year. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office says more than 80 percent of the money would directly fund cancer research and prevention programs.

Carol Baker lost a loved one to cancer and is a long-time volunteer with the American Cancer Society. "They've have put into it what they think needs to happen so we can get a cure for cancers, all cancers, and all tobacco-related diseases," she says.

George Runner is a member of the California State Board of Equalization and opposes Prop 29 in part, because he says the initiative creates an unchecked bureaucracy. "Every taxpayer has the right to insure that their tax dollars are being used correctly, that there is no conflict of interest," he says.

Non-profit supporters say the proposition is carefully crafted to dictate how the money is spent using a citizens oversight committee with annual reviews. The last time California voters passed a tobacco tax increase was 13 years ago and the amount was 50 cents a pack.

Voters narrowly defeated a tax increase in 2006 and cigarette manufactures want the same outcome again. Tobacco companies top the list of contributors spending more than $40 million to defeat the tax. The California Republican Party and a taxpayer group are also donors.

Supporters of Prop 29 are spending about one-fourth that amount trying to secure funding for cancer research. In addition to various medical organizations, the Lance Armstrong Foundation and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg support Prop 29. Advocates say the dollar tax will keep 220,000 young people from ever smoking and prompt another 100,000 adults to quit. "There is a simple linear relationship between price of cigarettes and youth smoking," Breath California CEO Margo Sidener says.

Critics argue the money raised by the tax could fund cancer research out of state while supporters point to dozens of California references in the initiative language. Groups such as the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce also worry the tax will hurt those who can least afford it, which is why tobacco companies are advertising in both English and Spanish.

"In effect, the people we're taxing are the poor people. Is that what we want? Because that is what we are going to get," says James Duran at the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

If approved, the dollar a pack tax would take effect October 1.

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