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GUEST COMMENTARY: Prop 29 is good for everyone (except Big Tobacco)

Cancer is a great equalizer. It doesn’t care about your sexual orientation, your ethnicity or how much money you have – it kills indiscriminately and ferociously.

In fact, cancer and heart disease kill more people in California than any other causes. In California, nearly one in two people born today will have cancer in their lifetime, and one in five will die from it.

If Proposition 29 passes, it will increase the current state cigarette tax by $1 to a total of $1.87 per pack. This is not a tax on all Californians that the No on 29 campaign would have you believe; it applies only to the purchase of tobacco products, so only those who smoke will pay.
Big Tobacco, like cancer, doesn’t care who you are either, although they certainly prefer the young who they want to addict. That’s why they spend millions of dollars every day recruiting new smokers. And their profits don’t stay in California; that revenue goes straight to the tobacco companies in Virginia and North Carolina.

Yet, the opposition would have you believe that Prop 29 will be bad for California’s economy. In fact, according to a UCSF study, more than $800 million that would otherwise go to out-of-state tobacco companies every year will remain in California if Prop 29 passes. This will lead to more than 121,000 new jobs, and $2 billion in total annual economic activity. This proves that Prop 29 is good for California’s health and economy.

Nearly 33% of deaths from cancer and 20% of deaths from heart disease are attributed to tobacco use. Therefore the best way to prevent disease, save lives and save health care costs is to reduce smoking rates. And we know that the more cigarettes cost, the less people will smoke. Teens in particular are extremely price sensitive, and LGBT youth are nearly three times as likely to smoke as their non-LGBT peers. Research shows that adding a dollar to the tax per pack will save 104,000 lives and stop 228,000 kids from smoking.

Proposition 29 will generate about $735 million its first year (and slightly less in ensuing years) for research and tobacco use prevention programs. Contrary to the opposition’s claims, all the revenue will be put to good use in California:

* 60% goes to grants and loans to support research for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and potential cures for cancer and tobacco-related diseases.

* 15% goes for the construction or lease of research facilities and equipment.

* 20% goes to existing state tobacco prevention and cessation programs

* 3% goes to law enforcement efforts to eliminate cigarette smuggling, tax evasion and illegal sales of tobacco to minors. Only two percent can be spent on administrative costs.

Big Tobacco would also have you believe, through their deceptive multimillion-dollar ad campaign, that doctors oppose Prop 29. Yet, the 50-member board of the California Medical Association, representing 35,000 doctors in the state, voted without dissent to support the measure. The initiative also has the support of leading health advocacy organizations like the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the National LGBT Cancer Network, and many more.

The evidence that tobacco contributes to disease and that raising the tobacco tax will reduce the number of smokers is incontrovertible. Passing Proposition 29 will be a big step to save lives, keep kids from smoking, and may lead to cures for the most deadly diseases. That’s why I, and the GSDBA, strongly support Prop 29. Please join us in voting Yes on June 5.

Tom Luhnow
CEO, Greater San Diego Business Association

(Editor's note: To submit a guest commentary, contact Editor in Chief Ken Williams at ken@sdgln.com, @KenSanDiego on Twitter, or by calling toll-free to (877) 727-5446, ext. 713.)