Taxing Tobacco

By: Grainne Rhuad

On June 5th in California, during our redundant primary polling, we will also be considering a money making tax initiative.

Proposition 29 is a measure backed by the American Lung Association and American Cancer society.  It provides for a $1 tax on cigarettes (by the pack), the money ostensibly going to cancer research.  A lot of voters are for it.  Evil Tobacco Companies are against it, obviously.

And I, a lifetime non-smoker, who can barely stand to be in the same outside area with cigarette smoke; I think it is wrong.

Another in the long string of measures designed to glean money from citizens who will dependably spend on a certain product, this measure and others like it are simply unfair.

First of all, we already have several measures in place that provide very large amounts of tax on cigarettes. Currently in California the average cost of a pack of cigarettes is $5.50.  But they can cost up to as much as $8.00 in some areas.

In addition we receive millions of dollars in settlements from Tobacco corporations to educate people that smoking is bad.  Of those dollars collected only about 6% is being spent on its intention.  The rest goes to the bureaucracy of figuring out well, how to keep money coming into the bureaucracy, it seems.

People seem to be of the opinion that if someone has a habit that they do not agree with, like or even have the ability to be around that this habit should be taxed.  You often hear things like, “If they are going to smoke, they should pay for it.”

But why?  It has not been made a crime, what is there to pay for other than what is needful for their habit and their resultant diseases?  The same argument could be used for meat eaters.  After all it has also been scientifically proven that eating meat causes health problems like heart disease, hypertension, liver problems, cancer and more.

Another argument often heard is that the tax payers have to pay more for smokers in the form of medical/Medicare.

This argument is simply ridiculous.   Are we to believe that smokers are mostly poor and on welfare programs?  Also Medicare is a social security program.  It is insurance that working people pay for their whole lives to have the privilege to use.  They ARE the tax payers.

What we have here is a measure that ensures money will come in.  Nobody who is smoking is going to stop anytime soon and if they try to that’s okay because Nicotine Patches are taxed too. (Although at this point it is merely our somewhat high California sales tax)

If we are going to tax according to the sure knowledge that we will definitely get the money may I suggest also taxing Methadone.  After all California currently boasts about 180 clinics for Methadone treatment.   That doesn’t even include doctors that administer it.  And, Methadone is just as addictive with patients as likely to pay for it with a $1.00 increase in taxation.

But that doesn’t seem fair to our liberal little hearts does it?  Because Methadone patients are trying to get off of Heroin, a much worse substance right?


In any case, no it’s not right; it singles out one group of people to pay for something that they have no connection to.  Bureaucracy and research for cancer.  Methadone doesn’t cause cancer right?  Neither does smoking cause every sort of cancer; this is another problem with the measure.  The funds can be used for any sort of cancer research.

Proposition 29 is also written to place the decisions on the spending of funds firmly in the hands of those who want to use it most.  On the listed suggested member board are one cardiovascular physician affiliated with a California academic medical center; the chancellors of UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz; two representatives of lobbying groups devoted to tobacco-related illness (including one who has been treated for such a disease); and three representatives from National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers in the state. There are 10 of the latter, including five UC campuses and the City of Hope.

It has in fact,  been compared to failed Prop 71 ( for stem cell research) which has become a bureaucratic nightmare and provided no restrictions for out of state research. And, which has to date resulted in very little research at all.

According to the glossy literature sent out by the Pro-29 side, right now, 36 states in the U.S. have higher taxes on tobacco than California. This is their argument?  The same one that didn’t hold any weight with your parents “Everyone else is doing it.”?  I suppose if they didn’t want to distance the money making machine of Hollywood they would blame it all on them as well.

However, it is just as unfair to tax smokers in other states, for an activity that they have chosen despite real and readily available information letting them know they will die from it.  Does that sound like a country that expounds freedom of choice?  Does it sound like one that cares about the “pursuit of happiness?”

It is true that tobacco companies have spend Millions of dollars fighting this campaign.  It is also true that they have a vested interest in it failing.  But, consider the quote from Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times, who made the observation:

Here’s a rule that should be instilled in the heads of anyone writing a ballot proposition: If you’re so inept that you hand the tobacco industry legitimate talking points, you’ve failed.”