By the time you read this, voters will have already entered the California primaries to check off on a number of candidates and ballot measures. One of these measures, Proposition 29, stands to have been the most contentious of the ballot boxes. Prop 29 adds a $1 tax on each pack of cigarettes, generating more than $700 million annually for research on cancer and other smoking-related diseases, and allots 20 percent of funds for California’s education and health programs concerning tobacco use.
For the most part, this measure makes sense: Tobacco-related health problems stand as a significant element of health care costs in the country, and any effort to mitigate them is an honorable cause. Regardless of what voters decided on Tuesday, Prop 29 serves as a prime example of well-intentioned legislation that can win voters’ sympathy while smokescreening gaping faults.
“Gaping faults,” in this case, refers to the way the measure doesn’t clarify where the hundreds of millions of tax dollars generated by Prop 29 can be spent. Namely, it doesn’t keep the money in California: No language in the measure states that the money must fund research and development in California.
You don’t need to be a political science major to understand that the Golden State sits submerged in budgetary concerns, and it boils down to one basic, aggravating problem: We don’t have money. Prop 29 certainly doesn’t help.
Though we can hope that the nine-person oversight committee — composed of California-based representatives such as UC chancellors and researchers — will invest more money back into the state, nothing about Prop 29 demands this. In essence, the tax can fund national efforts — and though that’s a wonderfully ethical effort, it’s a completely impractical approach in light of the state’s budget woes.
Practical issues aside, the story of Prop 29 revolves around the public’s rally around a sensitive issue — cancer and other tobacco-related diseases — that often encourages sympathetic action. It’s natural to want to support the measure; who doesn’t want to support cancer research?
A recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll showed support of the measure at 62 percent. It’s fair to assume that this stems from the fact that most voters don’t smoke, making it tempting for vote for the measure. It’s a legitimate stance, if a bit insensitive to the rights of tobacco users.
Still, that doesn’t mean citizens should turn a blind eye to the faults of the measure, because there’s still a way to make Prop 29 an effective piece of state legislation.
The problem of Prop 29 doesn’t lie in what the measure does, but how it does it: Namely, taking money out of Californian pockets to wait in a locked fund for distribution potentially across the country.
There needs to be money and attention paid toward cancer and tobacco-related disease research. But what the state needs is a measure that treats the state as the priority, because it is the priority.
Instead, Prop 29 treats California merely as a tool, putting state dollars on the line without specifics on how — and where — the cash will flow.
Eddie Kim is a senior majoring in print and digital journalism and editorial director for the Summer Trojan.