Prop 29 acts as a lesson on voter scrutiny

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.  

11 replies
  1. John Doe
    John Doe says:

    James, smokers are barely allowed to smoke anywhere now. And the few places they are able to, they are still confronted by people about it.

    I have been smoking for about 20 years and I can still run a mile in less than 7 minutes. But according to “tests” I should be bed ridden and dying because smoking should have given me cancer because I walked through a cloud of my own smoke.

    Find an actual proven case of second hand smoke causing cancer. And you can’t just hop on google, because even though there are plenty of sites that will say “yes”, none of them will be backed by any autopsy studies confirming the deaths. If 50,000 people died of second hand smoke this year…who were they? Do you know anyone that died of it? I sure don’t.

    That’s how things are done. Misinformation. Find something you don’t like, make a believable article. Convince everyone. Dress your unemployed brother up as a doctor. Have him give a speech that rice cakes cause cancer. Give a believable amount of deaths per year…we will say 1,500 died of congestive heart failure because some people ate too many rice cakes because their internal organs shut down due to cancer causing their bodies to not be able to process the foodstuffs. Now I’m not a doctor…are you? But sure, I guess that can be believable because “a doctor said so, and who is going to say different”.

    But of course you won’t believe anything like this until you see it from someone else. Because a smoker is telling you, and he is just defending smokers from another un-needed tax that will do nothing it says it is going to do. So automatically that makes me a liar because you have a profound hate for me and nothing I say will be true beause I am a filthy smoker. I’m not going to bother trying to convince you otherwise, but when a tax comes up about something you enjoy…remember how easily you were convinced about a tax that affects others.

    And like the commercials say…”I’m not a smoker, so this tax won’t affect me”. Yes it will, because that will be the logic for taxing something else that only affects one side of the population.

  2. James B
    James B says:

    John Doe, if you were a smoker who had enough income to pay for your medical expenses that will inevitably come from your smoking and you smoked in an area that no non-smokers would be affected, fine. But the vast majority of smokers are not like that, and for that reason I will always vote for tax spikes. Again, enjoy lung cancer, though.

  3. John Doe
    John Doe says:

    And here is another one for you…Every comment against this prop is replied with “You’re a smoker, aren’t you?”

    Very prejudice. That’s why it is so easy to throw on another tobacco tax.

  4. James B
    James B says:

    Wow John Doe, you are an idiot. Comparing tobacco to sugar? Last time I checked, I can enjoy a candy bar without endangering the lives of those around me. You can’t say the same about tobacco. Enjoy lung cancer, jerk.

  5. John Doe
    John Doe says:

    Mike is from Canada, Bettina. We have something called “The Constitution” and it is being violated more and more by new propositions like this all the time. Are you aware that tobacco is a product and it is being taxed more than it is worth? Look at all the laws against tobacco users compared to how things were…20 years ago. People HATE smokers, so when something comes up that burdens them, the non smokers go all for it. Can’t smoke in bars/buildings…that is a violation of property owners rights. Property owners are supposed to be able to manage their own rules. Look up “property rights” and see what has been done using voters as a weapon against something someone else doesn’t like. Maybe sugar should be looked at like tobacco. Sugar has more noticable health risks than tobacco. Look how many obese people there are. Would you vote on Prop 29 if it was a sugar tax?

    So you want to vote for this prop 29 that has no accountability or any clause saying it’s generated tax dollars don’t have to be spent in California, and no changes can be made to the prop for 15 years? Go ahead. And be sure to vote yes on the prop that comes out that suggests rounding up tobacco users in camps to execute them.

  6. Betsy
    Betsy says:

    “Money for research needs to go to the best researchers,period.” (as Mike stated)
    Yet,researchers,cancer patients will never see a penny if Prop 29 passes. ACS is a Global Anti-Smoking/Tobacco enforcer masquerading as a ‘Cancer Charity”. Research them-Vote NO on 29.
    Big Tobacco looks like Mother Theresa compared to ACS.

  7. Peter S
    Peter S says:

    Eddie, let me guess, you’re a smoker yourself. The issue has little to do with where the money goes. Hell, it could be burned for all I care. The point is that smoking affects non-smokers as well. Anytime you exit a building, attempt to walk (even on the USC campus), you will inevitably experience a cloud of cigarette smoke. Moreover, any statistical measure will show that increase in smoking tax rates leads to lower rates. Not to mention the health care costs involved. It is no secret that the poorer demographic of America tends to have the higher smoking rates. These individuals tend to not have the proper health care plans to treat any cancers or illnesses resulting from their smoking. This tab is picked up by tax payers, putting a burden on all of us. You should focus more on these issues rather than where the money goes.

  8. Max
    Max says:

    Terrible article. (Great timing though!)

    If you are collecting money to go towards research you have an obligation to make sure that the very best research projects are being funded, regardless of location. To suggest that all research dollars should be confined to a single state boundary is ludicrous.

    There are tons of fantastic research universities in California. All they have to do is write an A+ grant proposal and they will get funded.

  9. Mike Menkes
    Mike Menkes says:

    The editorial mixes apples and oranges. Voters aren’t voting on a proposition to raise taxes for general revenues. They’re voting on using a tax on a commodity to directly address harm done in the State by that commodity. Money spent of cancer research will benefit cancer patients in California. Period. If another proposition adds to the tobacco tax for money earmarked for Cancer treatment for Californians, That’s another proposition.
    In Canada, smokers pay $12 per pack, most of that taxes, all going to government’s general revenue. They use it to pay for medical services but they don’t have to use it for anything. This drop in the bucket for the consumer of tobacco generating millions of dollars annually for a cure is powerful.
    If the editorial were to be fair, it should have commented on the counter-argument that a restrictive, “money spent in California only” provision were there, it may preclude funding for research done jointly by different hospitals and universities. Money for cancer research needs to go to the best researchers, period.

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