Regents promote cigarette tax

The UC Regents have endorsed the California Cancer Research Act, which will put an increased tax on cigarettes to fund cancer research. The act, if it passes in the general election on June 5, 2012, will have tobacco products cost a dollar more.

In a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 14, former state Senate and 2010 Oakland mayoral candidate, Don Perata, proposed the California Cancer Research Act (CCRA) to the Regents’ Committee on Educational Policy. He informed the committee that CCRA was founded in the California Institute for Quantitative Biosciences, which is located at UCSF’s Mission Bay Campus. California laboratories such as the one in Mission Bay will have the advantage of doing more research and the opportunity to discover a cure for cancer if this ballot is approved.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of cancer in California. One out of every four residents in California die from cancer each year. Despite continuance of medical treatments and prevention, cigarette smoking remains to be a burden on the health care system. Studies show that the tax will save over 104,000 California residents from smoking-related deaths. It will also prevent more than 200,000 kids from ever becoming addicted to cigarettes when they become adults (CCRA). The purpose of this measure is to not only increase the tax on cigarettes but to establish the California Cancer Research and Life Sciences Innovation Trust Fund. A nine-member “Cancer Research Citizens Oversight Committee” will oversee this organization.

The panel will consist of chancellors from the campuses of UC San Francisco, UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley, three of the directors for the National Institute of Health (NIH) Cancer Centers, one cardiovascular physician from an academic medical center and two tobacco-related illness advocates (UC). Within this fund, there are five sections where the tax revenues will be deposited. Sixty percent ($468 million) will be spent on cancer and tobacco-related disease research; 15 percent ($117 million) will pay for facilities and equipment to support research; 20 percent ($156 million) will fund smoking cessation and tobacco use prevention; 3 percent ($23 million) will help police stop tobacco smuggling and enforce tobacco laws and no more than 2 percent on administrative costs (CCRA).

According to the UC Newsroom, a cumulative of $855 million should result from the tax during the first year. The proposition entails that the money will be dispersed into “medical research into cancers and heart disease, smoking education programs and tobacco law enforcements” (CCRA). In addition to the $855 million given to tobacco-related research and programs, already existing programs for health, natural and research will be increased by $45 million and state and local sales taxes will be raised to $32 million annually. Another study by University of California estimates that California could save up to $28.2 billion in health care costs between 2012 and 2016.

Although Perata has accumulated enough signatures for the ballot to qualify on the next general election, he recognizes that “getting the signatures was really the easy part” and that “[he’s] going to be in a big fight” against the tobacco industry (All Business). The tobacco industry has already invested in $2 million to overturn the legislation. This fact was taken from the filed reports to the California Secretary of State. In reference to the future battle from the tobacco industry, “We know that Big Tobacco will spend gobs of cash opposing this campaign because they want to keep California cigarettes cheap in order to recruit new smokers,” Perata said. “But as this endorsement proves, Californians understand this initiative will make our state stronger, save lives, save billions of dollars in avoidable health care costs, and keep California as ‘THE’ place for groundbreaking medical research” (Business Law Daily).

Since 1998, the 87-cent excise tax on cigarette packs has remained unchanged. With the proposed $1.87 tax on cigarettes, the UC Regents anticipate that cigarette consumption be reduced. With this newly proposed tax, will cigarette smokers actually lessen how much they smoke? Will they find new ways to have their nicotine fixed? How much effort will the tobacco industry make to maintain their loyal consumers? Will they take an aggressive approach at all? All of these questions will be answered within the next year as the general election rolls in.