Tobacco Company Lies Don’t Mean You Should Vote for Prop. 29

Apologies to readers who are not California voters. I need to talk briefly about Prop 29, the initiative on the June 5, 2012 California ballot. It’s a proposal to raise the state’s cigarette tax by $1.00 a pack to fund cancer research.

A little background before I get to my reasons for voting no on this proposition. The current tax on cigarettes in California is $0.87 per pack. That’s not the highest (in fact, California ranks 33rd among the states; the highest tax is $4.35 per pack in New York), but it’s pretty high as a percent of the cost of a pack. A few years ago, when this initiative was first contemplated, a study was done of the impact of raising the tax. The study found that increasing the tax would drive more smokers to the black market to buy cigarettes and that revenue from the cigarette tax would actually decline.

I have no reason to believe that that study would lead to different results if done today, given the economic realities that most people are facing.

But even if increasing the tax would generate more revenue for cancer research, I would still vote no. Here’s why.

Cancer research has been very well funded in the U.S. for about 50 years. We have no idea how much the total dollar amount is because there are so many agencies, organizations and companies doing the funding, but it’s in the big multiple billions, if not trillions, of dollars. What do we have to show for it? Not much, given the investment. So, rather than pouring more money down the black hole of cancer research, let’s spend some effort to get accountability for the research we have already so generously funded.

And, while I have no doubt that tobacco companies are lying about the impact of this initiative, I note that the major sponsor is the American Cancer Society (ACS), which has been lying to the American public about many things about cancer — from what constitutes a cure for cancer to what mammograms do and don’t do — for as long as it’s been in existence. I don’t trust the ACS either So, a pox on both their houses.

Vote No on Prop. 29

© Barbara A. Brenner 2012

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6 Responses to Tobacco Company Lies Don’t Mean You Should Vote for Prop. 29

  1. AnneMarie says:

    Great line:
    what constitutes a cure for cancer to *****what mammograms do and don’t do****

    I just took exception with a local organization that is very big on breast education. Apparently, they have a new person in charge of their social media presence. The canned, auto-tweets are fast and furious…… And they are pissing me off. I tried to privately explain that using the word “prevent” is offensive to many of us who developed breast cancer as it implies we had some form of control.

    When I saw THIS tweet in the stream, I went ahead and bitch-blogged…

    “Prevent #breastcancer with early detection! Download a print-friendly 1 pg sheet on how to do a BSE (breast self-exam)”

    Oxymoronic and the ongoing perpetration of “what mammograms do and do not do” … being shared by a fairly prominent group who educates by going into the SCHOOLS and teaching high school girls about “breast health?” I hope to GOD they aren’t dispensing this type of information to an entire new generation. We are already climbing an uphill battle in an attempt to expose the truth.

    Thanks for sharing your brilliant points of view.

    • bbzinger says:

      Thank you, Anne Marie. If you haven’t seen Pink Ribbons, Inc. yet you should. I do a riff in the film on the notion of mammograms as “prevention.” Spare me.


  2. bobO says:

    Thank you Barbara, clear and well reasoned as always.

  3. Kim Klausner says:

    I really have to disagree with you on this one. I’m no fan of the major voluntary health organizations — ALA, ACS, AHA but their support for this is no reason not to vote for it. There are two major reasons to vote for it:
    1. Many studies have shown that the single best way to cut smoking rates is to increase cigarette taxes. Yes, some people will buy underground but many more will stop smoking or, especially for kids, not start.
    2. Beyond cancer research, the increased taxes will pay for CA’s tobacco control program which was tremendously successful in the early 2000s in reducing smoking incidence. Without this money, CA has no way to counter the millions of dollars the tobacco companies spend on marketing their lethal products.
    For more information about why to support 29 please go to
    I’ve worked in tobacco control for 8 years and I have no reservations supporting Prop 29. I hope you’ll re-think your position.



  4. bbzinger says:


    I appreciate your perspective, but the problem with issue politics on the ballot is that they tend to mask the real issues. If we want to do tobacco control, that’s what the initiative should do, but it focuses on cancer to get people to vote for it. Even if were framed to focus on tobacco control, I would probably vote no because of the state’s desperate need for general fund revenues. I simply can’t say the tobacco control is more important than education or health care for the poor.


  5. Pingback: Prop 29: Some Thoughts for California Peeps | regrounding

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