I actually have a problem with cigarette taxes in that they’re extremely regressive. Most of the top 1 percent don’t smoke. Over the past have century, it’s become much more exclusively a lower class vice. It’s very easy to dismiss the concern because smoking is a choice, but for the fact that you’re talking about the most addictive substance known. And much like passing laws for tougher laws against child molesters (would you ever oppose tougher laws for child molesters no matter how tough they are already?), tobacco companies make easy targets. Yes, the demand curve is elastic to some degree, and increasing prices does diminish consumption despite the addiction, which means that not all of the revenue generation can be passed off to the consumer. The point is, will you ever oppose more cigarette taxes? I think this is the third or fourth tobacco tax we will have voted on (not sure how many have passed), and this one is a doozy! Five cents per cigarette, meaning $1.00 per pack. That will more than double the existing tax. And it will probably result in a larger black market.
Okay, that’s the downside. On the other hand, the tax increases and the revenue-backed anti-smoking programs in California have actually worked. Fewer teenagers are smoking. More adults are quitting. That will save some lives.
Where will the dollar go? If implemented as planned, 60 cents will go to grants and loans to support research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. 15 cents would go to build facilities for the research. 20 cents would go to prevention and cessation programs. 3 cents would go to fight the aforementioned black market. And 2 cents would go to administration of the fund (which I think would set a record for government efficiency!).
There’s also a provision for “backfill” payments to cover the earlier taxes, where revenues might be lost because the deterrence function is actually effective at addiction reduction.
The primary opposition is coming from the usual tax posses, some Chamber folk, and you know who. In support is a slew of cancer non-profits and medical associations. The opposition claims that grants will go out of state, and laments the lack of money going to school programs (which I admit would make me slightly more enthusiastic a supporter). And for some reason the opposition in the Voter Information Guide is spending some of its space opposing high speed rail.
So, anyway, I support it. I won’t be broken-hearted if it fails. Politically speaking, I would like to see the measure pass because the Republicans are literally destroying the economy with an intransigent opposition to all things tax, and maybe it’ll send some sort of message. And research is one of the few industries still thriving in this country – it makes sense to subsidize it. It’s research which will save lives.
So, good cause and all. Ra ra.
I have to say also that the melodramatic whining from self-proclaimed “libertarians” generating the “smoking Nazi” image above presents an extra incentive.