Why am I voting for Prop 29, the $1 tobacco tax initiative to fund cancer research, tomorrow?
Prop 29 saves lives, by discouraging Californians from smoking, and thus preventing lung cancer later in life. In particular, it discourages teenagers from starting to smoke, which is perhaps one of the most effective public health efforts available. Prop 29 also raises funds for cancer research, an important and noble cause.
The tobacco companies are spending millions and millions of dollars to oppose it, raising concerns that range from misleading to downright false. They are using the same consultants, and the same arguments, to attack health reforms in past years. Beyond the merits, my vote is a rejection of the tobacco industry and their tactics.
I get discouraged when I see some people I know in agreement with the tobacco industry in opposition to Prop 29. For some, it is understandable, as they are supported, directly or indirectly, by tobacco industry dollars. Others are uninfluenced by tobacco dollars, and have good intentions, and have a legitimate issue about “ballot box budgeting” that they mistakenly address to this initiative.
Health Access has led fights against “ballot-box budgeting,” especially measures that take existing general fund dollars for specific purposes. In the long run, such measures can force cuts in other areas, including health. But Prop 29 is much different than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s afterschool initiative, or various efforts at “protecting” transportation funds, or other “ballot box budgeting measures.” Prop 29 raises all the money it spends. While I would have liked the measure more if it dedicated resources to the general fund or specific health programs, it doesn’t make the deficit any worse–and will help improve health in the long run. In fact, unless we get rid of initiatives altogether, I would like to encourage all initiatives that set up new programs or spending to come with specific revenues as well–if you are going to propose a new program on the ballot, that’s the right way to do it. The fact that there is a public health benefit to the tobacco tax itself is a bigger bonus. For those who are concerned about “ballot-box budgeting,” you might want to see how blogger Pete Stahl has come around to support of this measure. Whatever “opportunity cost” for passing this Prop 29 is illusory: the Legislature has yet to ever raise the tobacco tax more than 2 cents–literally, since 1959–due to some combination of the 2/3 rule for revenues and the significant power and influence of the tobacco industry. So this is the best and only hope in the near future to raise the tobacco tax and have the positive impacts that come from it.
I am proudly voting for Prop 29, and look forward to seeing it succeed tomorrow.