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Friday, December 15, 2017

Up In Smoke

by quinne anderson (writer), Los Angeles, October 26, 2006

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It seems pretty simple. People who smoke are going to vote against Proposition 86, and people who don't will vote for it. Which means that it ought to pass, since only 14% of Californians smoke cigare

It seems pretty simple. People who smoke are going to vote against Proposition 86, and people who don't will vote for it. Which means that it ought to pass, since only 14% of Californians smoke cigarettes.

Upon further inspection, however, the matter is not that simple. Proposition 86 plans to implement the first tobacco excise hike since 1998. The new tax will add $.13 to each cigarette (that's $2.60 a pack) and about $4 to each can of smokeless tobacco.

Its passing will create The Tobacco Tax of 2006 Trust Fund in the State Treasury. Through this trust fund, profits will be directly allocated monthly into various sub-accounts. The text of the proposed initiative is riddled with these sub-accounts and percentages--a veritable labyrinth of funding allocations. It's very lengthy and often confusing. Allow me to attempt to simplify it all.

The main points in support of this measure are thus:
1. Tobacco-related illnesses are overwhelming our health care programs, jeopardizing the ability of hospitals and physicians to treat patients with other, unrelated ailments efficiently. Additional funds will help alleviate this burden.
2. Passing this tax would ideally cause half a million California smokers to quit due to cost.
3. The higher cost of tobacco products would deter teenagers from starting smoking.
4. Funds earned from the tax will go to support hospital emergency services, cancer research, obesity programs, smoke prevention programs, smoking cessation programs, and expanded health care coverage for children.
5. Approximately 40% of the profits would go to qualified hospitals to improve emergency care, expand nursing education, and issue health insurance to eligible children.

The main points against this legislation are as follows:
1. Much of the funding is going to big hospital corporations.
2. Very little of the funding will be spent on smoking cessation and smoking prevention programs. Most of the money raised will be spent on things completely unrelated to smoking.
3. The tax is singling out a small population to bear a burden for the general public.
4. Section 9 of the proposition exempts the participating hospitals from antitrust laws.
5. The proposition exempts itself from the mandate of Proposition 98, which appropriates approximately 40% of funds raised by new taxes to education.

It's hard to pick a side. On one hand, hospitals are pouring money into the pro-86 campaign because they want costs for emergency services for the un- or underinsured to be reimbursed. Certainly they want additional funding. The big tobacco companies are bankrolling the con-86 campaign because this new tax will kill their sales in California. They want to keep their customers!

Other opposition to 86 believes that the new tax will encourage black market sales and smuggling of cigarettes. They fear that crimes related to tobacco sales will skyrocket, because one truckload of cigarettes will be worth over $2 million. My guess is that people would simply start ordering cheaper cigarettes from other sources: online, or from Indian reservations, for instance. I doubt that people are going to be out in droves, armed to the teeth and covertly making deals on dirty, dimly lit street corners, as though Marlboros were crack rocks. I think this Mafia-inspired fear is a bit of a stretch.

Certainly it's unfair for one small portion of the population to pay for programs that benefit the population at large. That's why past legislation that was proposed for the wealthy elite to pay a tax for universal kindergarten was shot down. But it's also unfair for the people who smoke cigarettes to impose their secondhand smoke on the lungs of those of us who don't smoke. To burden the 86% of California non-smokers with the fiscal responsibility of helping fund health care in its treatment of smoking-related illnesses is just as unfair.

I know where my vote lies. I smoked a pack a day for ten years. But no longer. Admittedly, I have a personal agenda against the tobacco companies. They have a remarkable track record for lying to the public, they sell a product that is more dangerous and addictive than many illegal substances, they market toward our youth, and the only reason their products remain legal is because in this country and in our government, money talks.

But besides all the issues in regards to research, health care and the hospitals, I simply want Big Tobacco to lose. I want them to lose money, and I want them to lose customers. But I don't want them to lose customers for me. I want them to lose customers for the customers.



About the Writer

quinne anderson is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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