Top 8 Things You Should Know About California’s Proposed Tobacco Tax

Tomorrow, Californians will vote on a ballot measure that would raise the state’s cigarette tax by one dollar a pack.

There has been a contentious fight over the measure, known as Proposition 29 or the California Cancer Research Act. On one side, big tobacco has framed the proposal as another high tax to fuel a useless bureaucracy, while anti-smoking advocates point out its myriad health and revenue benefits that would help with California’s constant budget woes.

Here are the top eight facts you should know before tomorrow’s vote:

1. California has one of the lowest taxes on cigarettes in the country, ranking 33rd (PDF) in the nation with an 87 cent tax per pack. The bill would raise that by one dollar to $1.87 per pack.


2. California’s tobacco tax would still be 16th in the nation. Should the proposition pass tomorrow, California would still rank relatively low on tobacco taxes. This is particularly odd for a state with one of the lowest rates of smoking in the country.

3. Big money is pouring in from big tobacco. Tobacco companies have apparently spent almost $50 million to fight the bill. Around $30 million of that came from just Philip Morris (Marlboro) and RJ Reynolds (Camel).

4. The state legislature has voted down a tobacco tax more than 30 times in 30 years. Legislators often rely on big tobacco for political funding, which may explain why they have not supported a cigarette tax in the last 30 years. In 2006, California voters also shot down a similar tobacco tax after big tobacco shelled out $67 million to run a campaign against the tax.

5. The proposition would raise $810 million in much-needed tax revenue for a state with serious budget shortfalls. The California Legislative Analyst’s offiice highlights the staggering amount of revenue the bill would bring in: “We estimate that the increase in cigarette excise taxes required by this measure would raise about $615 million in 2012‑13 (partial-year effect) andabout $810 million in 2013‑14 (the first full-year impact).”

6. Health groups support Proposition 29, including the “American Cancer Society, which contributed $8.4 million, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which gave $1.5 million, the American Heart Association, which gave $550,149, Michael Bloomberg, who contributed $500,000 and the American Lung Association, which gave $415,986.

7. Advocates’ money is only a quarter of Big Tobacco’s. The big money from these supporters is only equal to about a quarter of what big tobacco companies have spent to influence the election. That money may not be enough, especially since big tobacco could still spend more.

8. Big tobacco is hiding its influence. The two big cigarette producers have made ads that are supposed to “educate” the public about the measure, with their names hidden at the bottom of the page. Here is one from Phillip Morris and here is one from RJ Reynolds. They also produced this scary ad that shows a “doctor” explaining the harm of the measure, but ignoring the fact that she is being paid by the people who make cancer-causing tobacco products:

Tomorrow’s vote is likely to be a toss up, despite the fact that cigarette taxes have proven an extremely effective way to encourage people to quit smoking. While originally the proposal had 62 percent support, with Big Tobacco increasingly pushing its agenda, that number is now down to just 50 percent.