June 5, 2012 marked the day I had been waiting for since I first saw my mother proudly sporting the “I just voted” sticker on her shirt. The opportunity had finally arrived for me to speak out as a citizen to make a difference in this country where the power is fully invested in the people.
As I carefully reviewed the ballot to determine my position on the various candidates and propositions proposed, my eyes were quickly drawn to California’s Proposition 29, a proposition intended to add an additional $1.00 tax on cigarettes. As a public health student, I saw this proposition not only as a way to lower smoking rates consequently resulting in enhanced air quality, but also an opportunity to raise much needed revenue for state programs.
Proposition 29 is the proposal a $1.00 sin tax to be placed upon cigarette pack purchases. The revenue raised from this sin tax is proposed to go towards furthering cancer research. Lance Armstrong, along with several other anti-tobacco organizations, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, joined forces to gain support for the California tax measure.
Typical of big tobacco companies, dramatic expenditures ($47 million) have been made to campaign against Proposition 29. In an effort to muddy the issue, tobacco companies leapfrogged over whether cigarettes deserved to be slapped with a “sin tax”— likely because they would lose that argument— and focused instead on the attack against how the money raised would be allocated. An expensive effort in distraction that—unfortunately for California— ultimately paid off.
What would be the benefits of such a tax? It has been shown in the past that increasing taxes on cigarettes reduces the number of smokers, especially those in the younger population. The extra money was proposed to be spent on cancer research— a cause I believe many can attest to never receiving too much funding.
The last time California increased their tobacco taxes was in 1998—seems a little shocking for the state recognized as being more health conscience than most. In fact, if Proposition 29 passed it would still put California as having only the 16th highest tax rate.
Unfortunately, despite the effort of many people, organizations, celebrities, politicians, and mothers like you, Proposition 29 was defeated by a small margin. Although frustrating, this in no way means the fight against tobacco is over. As the article mentions, those advocating against smoking do not respond to circumstances such as these as “defeats”, rather come to learn how they can create propositions that are more bullet-proof and less vulnerable against assailing tobacco companies. For instance, clearly identifying the programs that would benefit from the allocated funding.
As an anti-smoking advocate myself, I’ve learned a valuable lesson in the defeat against Prop. 29. Next time, we need to outwit The Big Guys and unveil their misleading tactics. We need to decode their double-speak for the masses and shed light on their deceptive practices. A win next time will require an amplified effort with even more education, media engagement, and advocacy. We can’t let the next opportunity go up in smoke.