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Prop 29 Would Make Smokers Cough Up Higher Taxes

Evening Edition

Aired 5/23/12 on KPBS News.

A number of San Diego institutions could benefit from Proposition 29 on the June ballot, which would raise the tax on cigarettes to support cancer research.

— Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. It’s also one of the leading causes of cancer.

The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.
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Above: The Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

Proposition 29 on the June 5 ballot aims to make smokers pay their share of the burden. The measure would raise tobacco taxes in California by a dollar a pack. It would generate an estimated $600 million a year for cancer research.

A number of San Diego institutions could benefit.

At La Jolla’s Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute, more than 500 people are involved in cancer research.

Dr. Sara Courtneidge directs one of the labs. For more than seven years, Courtneidge has been studying how cancer cells invade tissues.

"Both in the primary tumor that people get, but also in the spread of the cancer around the body, which is the thing that most people will die of, the metastases that they have," Courtneidge said. "And so we’re very interested in defining the mechanisms by which cancer cells move, and invade. And then also thinking about ways that we could come up with new therapeutics that would target that specific mechanism.”

Courtneidge said it takes years of false starts and multiple clinical trials to get even one potential cancer drug to market.

And that requires a lot of money.

Courtneidge and other cancer researchers’ main source of funds is the federal government.

But she pointed out federal grants are becoming much tougher to get than they used to be.

"We have a lot of ideas, and particularly in California, there are some terrific cancer researchers who are being limited right now in terms of what they can do," Courtneidge said. "It’s not their imagination that’s limited, but it’s the resources for them to be able to bring this forward."

In addition to the $600 million for cancer research, every year Prop 29 would also generate an estimated $179 million for anti-smoking campaigns.

The American Lung Association is one of Proposition 29’s major backers.

The Association’s Debra Kelley said California used to have one of the highest tobacco tax rates in the country. But since California last raised tobacco taxes in 1998, a lot of other states have passed it by.

"Well, we are standing at a pathetic 33rd," Kelley said. "That means 33 other states have higher tobacco taxes than we do."

Kelley explained under Proposition 29, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would jump from 87 cents to $1.87.

"The only people in California who are going to pay this tax are the 12 percent who continue to smoke, continue to buy tobacco products," said Kelley. "And so what’s going to happen is, they’re going to be more motivated to quit smoking, or they’re going to smoke less, fewer kids are going to start smoking. And so all together, this is going to mean a huge decrease in the number of people who smoke."

And that possibility has tobacco companies up in arms. They’ve bankrolled a massive ad campaign against Proposition 29.

"I’m against smoking. So I thought Prop 29 was a good idea," begins one of the TV ads. "Then I read it. It raises $735 million in tobacco taxes. But not one penny goes to new funding for cancer treatment."

"It imposes nearly a billion dollars in new taxes on Californians, but doesn’t require it to be spent in California creating jobs. That's not right," another TV ad states.

As of mid-May, tobacco giants have committed nearly $40 million to defeat Proposition 29. That’s nearly five times as much money as backers have raised.

But supporters of the measure remain undeterred.

San Diego allergist Michael Welch admits that California smokers already pay more than $5 a pack.

"It’s an expensive little pastime to smoke. But apparently it isn’t a deterrent enough," Welch said. "And there’s data to show that for about a 10 percent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes, about 4 to 5 percent of people will either not take up the habit, or stop the habit if they have the habit. And those numbers sound good."

And the possibility of getting more money for cancer research sounds good to San Diego’s scientific community, especially Dr. Kristiina Vuori. She’s the president of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute.

"Biotechnology, medical research, is one of the drivers for the economy in San Diego, and in many parts of this state in general," Vuori said. "And I think it would be very helpful to spark the economy at these times when things are not a rosy as they were some time ago."

A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California in March showed 67 percent of likely voters supported Prop 29.

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Avatar for user 'HeatherColleen76'

HeatherColleen76 | May 23, 2012 at 9:19 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Cancer research is way too vague for me. What type of research? The kind that uses living creatures in cruel experiments? Theres a lot of that. I won't support torturing animals for cancer that is for the most part brought on by mankind in the first place. Nor will I support bullying tobacco companies. They print a clear warning on their packaging. This tax increase and the reason for it sound ridiculous in my opinion. I no longer smoke and my grandfather whom I loved Died from smoking related lung cancer. My opinion is not biased.

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Avatar for user 'jpk'

jpk | May 23, 2012 at 11:19 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Actually, the tobacco industry will spend even more than $40 million fighting Prop. 29. That's just the money they've committed so far. By the time June 5th rolls around, Big Tobacco will probably spend $80 to $100 million fighting a public health measure.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News, and the Sacramento Bee, Big Tobacco's slick ad campaign is filled with lies and distortions. And $100 million spreads a lot of lies and distortions.

Vote YES on Prop 29 and tell Philip Morris that it doesn't make health policy in California.

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Avatar for user 'MFoor'

MFoor | May 23, 2012 at 12:58 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Think about how many new California jobs would be created form Prop 29 passing! It will save lives, keep kids from smoking and fund cancer research. I smoked for over 10 years and it was very difficult to kick the habit. But I did it!
For the future of our children and grandchildren I urge you to vote Yes on Prop 29 June 5th.

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Avatar for user 'Hbuschman'

Hbuschman | May 23, 2012 at 2:17 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Prop 29 is a win-win for all Californians because it will:
- reduce the number of smokers in our state, thus reducing health care costs for which we all shoulder the burden
- give life-saving research a much-needed boost at a time when federal grant funding is in decline
- save and create jobs in California, allowing us to maintain our reputation for innovation

Money spent on cigarettes go to out-of-state tobacco companies. Why not keep some of that here in California, where it will do some good?

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Avatar for user 'Hbuschman'

Hbuschman | May 23, 2012 at 2:19 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Don't believe the Prop 29 lies you'll see in ads paid for by Big Tobacco. Here's a site that debunks two myths by taking a close look at the actual legal text of Prop 29:

In short, the money WILL stay in California. And Prop 29 WILL have careful oversight--by scientists, doctors, and patient advocates, not politicians.

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | May 23, 2012 at 4:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Let's wait and see how much of that $600 million really goes to cancer research.

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Avatar for user 'MConnolly'

MConnolly | May 23, 2012 at 5:22 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

A few facts: 90% of California smokers admit that they started this "cool" pastime before age 18. About 36,900 of California's kids become tobacco-addicted each year. 15.4 % of California high school kids smoke. It is unusual for people to take up smoking after age 25 (older and wiser). As of right now, over half a million kids currently living in California are likely to die prematurely of smoking-related diseases.

In 2012, about 16,000 new cases of lung or bronchus cancer were diagnosed in California. Most of those are discovered late-stage, and these smokers don't usually last long. The tobacco industry must constantly farm new crops of healthy teenagers to addict, so the money keeps flowing. . . and hundreds of millions of that money really does go out of state!

When I was collecting 100's of signatures of voters to get this great initiative onto the ballot, I was occasionally asked to hold an open pack of cigarettes as someone signed. When I asked why the person wanted to pay the extra tax, the answer usually went something like this: "I don't want my kids to smoke. It's ruined my life."

Prop 29 will provide anti-tobacco education in our schools and will triple the current number of smoking cessation clinics, as well as stimulate our enviable scientific research industry in California.

Please remind all your contacts: On June 5th, Vote YES on Prop 29 to save lives!

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Avatar for user 'MConnolly'

MConnolly | May 23, 2012 at 5:30 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

correction: In 2012, it is expected that about 16,000 new cases will be diagnosed. . . . (sorry!)

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 23, 2012 at 6:09 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Heathercolleen, your posts seems to cover an interesting range of concerns.

You are concerned with animals being subjected to cruel animal testing and then in the same post are concerned with Tobaco Companies being bullied.

It seems an odd combination, but hey, we all have our opinions.

To your first point, I am against all **unnecessary** animal testing. If alternatives eist, thy should always be used even if they cost more.

In certain situations, however, animal testing needs to be done and many advances in medicine we have today wouldn't even exist without it.

I don't know if the research associated with prop 29 will involve animal testing or not, but I do know that many people throughout the world suffer from cancer and hardly anyone on this planet hasn't been affected by a loved one with the disease or having it themselves.

We need to make cancer research a priority in this country, and if it means a non-essential luxury good which costs our nation a lot of money due to its negative health consequences needs to become $1 more expensive to accomplish this then that's a small price to pay for advances in a disease responsible for so much suffering and pain.

As to your comment about "bullying tobacco" companies -

If these companies weren't legally obligated to certain parameters they would be handing out cigarettes to preschoolers. I have little sympathy for them.

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Avatar for user 'jamesjm'

jamesjm | May 24, 2012 at 5:24 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

That's $40,000,000 of that could have been donated to children's education and health care. Instead the tobacco syndicate earmarks it towards their lawyers and spin machines.

The tobacco industry is an evil empire that deals in addiction, pain and death - nothing else.

I support Lance Armstrong and strongly endorse P29.

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Avatar for user 'HeatherColleen76'

HeatherColleen76 | May 24, 2012 at 9:01 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Peking Duck, tobacco companies didn't give anyone cancer, they just provide the tobacco with a clear warning. I don't support ANY animal testing. As far as cancer goes, we have brought that on ourselves for the most part. Look it up. Research it. Now you want to reverse It by torturing other living beings? I don't understand that. It's disturbing. We all have to be morons to.believe all that money is going to research anyway. This proposition is a joke. Don't be a lemming. Your on the edge of the cliff already. Do also believe that guns grow trigger fingers and murder people themselves too?

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Avatar for user 'Really123'

Really123 | May 24, 2012 at 9:12 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

HC76, I understand where your coming from, however, the health costs of smoking tobacco affect all of us by being passed on to those who can pay by those who cannot. If people bring cancer on themselves by smoking, do they deserve health care if they can'ty afford it?

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 24, 2012 at 9:54 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

I do think the underlying motivation and result of this are good, but when you think about the role of the government it does not seem appropriate for them to legislate our lifestyles into compliance with their health standards. Further, and I know this is a slippery slope type argument, but if socialized medicine takes hold, what is next? Will the government start taxing every unhealthy food and beverage to encourage the population to eat according to what the government thinks is best for us and for the bottom line of the national insurance plan?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 24, 2012 at 8:51 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

HC76, your overgeneralizing about a disease as complex as cancer is disturbing. You act as though it results completely from lifestyle choices is irresponsible and inaccurate.

Do you realize approximately 1 out of every 8 women will develop breat cancer?

Are you trying to tell me all those women brought the disease on themselves?

I value the life on animals very much, but life isn't fair and choices need to be made based on what society considers moral or not.

Luckily, your opinion that never exposing an animal to clinical research even if it means we stagnate medical advancement and mis out on cures that help humanity is in the minority.

And I would watch out calling others a lemming because it appears you have been pretty snookered into believing all he Big Tobacco propaganda.

Your argument that it's fine to sell anything as long as it has a warning label on it is ridiculous.

Do you support bagging up heroin and stocking it t he local 7-11? I mean hell - slap a simple warning label on it and we are good to go using your 'reasoning'.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 25, 2012 at 9:05 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

I love animals myself, but humans come higher on the priority list. If an animal must suffer in order to prevent humans from suffering, tragic as it is, I support it. Valuing the lives of animals over those of humans is a sign of mental dysfunction.

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Avatar for user 'Len'

Len | May 26, 2012 at 5:13 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

@JeanMarc. You write, "if socialized medicine takes hold, what is next?" From other of your posts I think that by "socialized medicine" you mean the Obama Health Plan. Liberals WISH that the OHP was even slightly socialist. It is better than the No healthplan before it, but health insurance company stocks rose on the bill's passage, the CEO of one of the largest publicy liked the bill. Even single-payer, which would have moved in the diection of socialized medicine, wasn't socialistic. If the single payer was the government, as with Medicare, it still wouldn't be socialist, because most care providers would be paid by their employers, not by the government
You're also against "government"... "legislat(ing) our lifestyles into compliance with their health standards." You might try eating/drinking foods and liquids which the many governments, from local to federal, have NOT subjected to health and safety rules. (Take your shots first. Though there are no vaccines for many diseases,) Still, illness and death are preferable to a governent.determining what's fit to eat and drink, and seeing that drugs are safe, right?

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 29, 2012 at 9:24 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

Oh, Len. You just love me. Now I think there is quite a difference between taxing government-deemed unhealthy foods and preventing the population from drinking poison. What I meant is for example, the government might start taxing fast food higher, soda, candy, sweets, etc. because they are unhealthy. I don't think the government should do that, because the government is not our mother.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 29, 2012 at 9:33 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

DUCKSTER, in your reply to HC76, you are once again demonstrating the contradictions in your own thought. So you want unviersal brith control and abortion because you believe it is a right--but if they want to puff a few times you frown on this and blame the providers instead?

And you're suppose to be the left libertarian. \

I guess it just depends on the issue.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 29, 2012 at 10:25 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

Mission, I never categorized myself a "left libertarian" I simply look at issues on their own merit.

This is a public health issue.

The use of contraception and the right to have an a abortion don't have negative health consequences that cost our nation billions if not trillions due to ill health effects resulting from their use.

Nor does contraception or abortion pollute our air and cause second hand smoke carcinogens to be emitted.

The comparison is absurd.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 29, 2012 at 12:14 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

“ Valuing the lives of animals over those of humans is a sign of mental dysfunction.”

Careful with that. There are plenty of animals that are more valuable than the lives of many humans.
Compare with and tell me which one is more valuable. Even if you choose the life of Mr. Taylor over any of the 7 surviving rhinos, I’d appreciate it if you didn’t accuse those of us who disagree with that perspective of being mentally dysfunctional.

On the topic... The proposition is moving in the correct direction. Even better would be requiring purchasers of tobacco to waive their access to public health funding. But this will help.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 29, 2012 at 1:48 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

JeanMarc: "Valuing the lives of animals over those of humans is a sign of mental dysfunction."

Humans are animals. There is absolutely no difference between us (I challenge you to come up with one if you disagree).

Animal testing is cruel, inaccurate, and unnecessary. It would be far more cost effective and accurate to test on humans who actually need the cure.

Thus, it is a clear sign of mental dysfunction to engage in animal testing.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 29, 2012 at 2:23 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

I will be voting YES on Prop 29.


1. Government healthcare/insurance dollars
2. Second-hand smoke

Tax/insurance dollars are used to treat diseases contracted from smoking. That is one person's negative lifestyle choice that the rest of us end up paying for. Second-hand smoke causes harm to innocent bystanders. Thus we need to tax or preferably ban.

This is not government intrusion into our lives. Health care and insurance mandates are. We should live (or die) by our own personal choices. Don't make everyone else pay for it.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 29, 2012 at 2:41 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

benz72, I meant in general. Sure, there are some worthless humans around. But humans are the most important creatures on this planet.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 29, 2012 at 3:01 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago


If you actually waned to name the most important creature on this planet, it would be phytoplankton. You still haven't answered my challenge.

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Avatar for user 'benz72'

benz72 | May 30, 2012 at 7:28 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

Most humans are important to themselves and some other humans, but it is difficult to make the argument that there is a shortage of us. Beware of anthropic bias.

E.g. Earth is not the center of a static universe, put in its special place by a doting creator to honor us. It just looks like we're fixed in the middle with everything moving around us until you actually try to understand how big everything else is and how it moves.

Similarly, while we may be very successful animals, we have not freed ourselves from the savage impulses that ruled our distant ancestors. Most of us are good at suppressing or hiding them because a functioning society requires it, but go watch a playground brawl or read the news about Syria if you want to peek at what sort of in-group/out-group biased animals we are.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | May 30, 2012 at 9:04 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

Absurd? How did you vote on Prop 19, Duck?

I can argue FOR 19 the same way I could argue about tobacco.

You don't have to categorize yourself as anything. Your position on the important issues speak for themselves--but then one comes across something like this where you take a contradictory position.

Now how about alcohol? Can you hold your liquor or do we need more/fewer laws, taxes on alcohol?

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | June 1, 2012 at 9:39 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

Much like the lottery, its a tax on stupid people .

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