Policy & LawPublic Health

$1 Tax on a Pack of Cigarettes? As California Goes -So Goes the Nation

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Want to see where the country is heading? Look no farther than California. The state has been a harbinger of what’s coming nationally for many decades now. It heralded the tolerant attitude toward sex and other social mores (remember the hippies? and the flower children?), it legitimized and accepted homosexuality, it embraced immigration as a positive cultural and economic force, it created awareness of eating healthy, even  coining its style as ‘California cuisine’, it created a public education system that was the envy of the country, it ushered in the age of technology (could Steve Jobs thrive in the South?), and biotechnology. So where is California today?

The voters of California are heading to the polls on Tuesday (June 5), and one of the hottest issues is Proposition 29. The proposition mandates a tax of $1-a-pack of cigarettes, dedicated to cancer research. Why should the voters resort to the initiative (referendum) process? Because in the last 14 years there were 30 attempts to pass a bill to raise the tobacco tax -all defeated by the tobacco lobby. Now, it wouldn’t be surprising if this happened in Kentucky, a tobacco-growing state, or in some conservative state such as Utah, but the legislature of California has been dominated by liberal Democrats since time immemorial. And yes, any tax requires a two-thirds majority to pass, but many Dems voted against the tax as well. So what gives? Money, pure and simple. The tobacco industry has been plying the legislators with donations -corrupting Democrats and Republicans alike. Any wonder the voters decided to take matters in their own hands?  But that has provoked a $47 million storm of advertisements, overwhelmingly financed by the tobacco industry, which is outspending proponents by nearly four to one to defeat the biggest threat it has faced in California in over a decade, according to the New York Times.   Philip Morris USA and the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company are the leading contributors behind the effort to defeat Prop 29. It has also drawn around $1 million from the California Republican Party.        Now here is a surprise: in the wake of a ferocious, and blatant disinformation campaign a recent poll found that support for the measure has dropped from 67% to 53%. “You think of California as a healthy, progressive state leading in tobacco cessation,” said Chris Lehman, one of the organizers behind the initiative. “It’s just not. And it’s not for lack of trying.”

My take

Just as California heralded major turning points in our culture and economics, it is now predicting the corrosive influence of money on our future as a nation. Couple this with the deep mistrust of Government that Big Money is sowing, and what California is predicting ain’t pretty. The comments on articles in the NYT are usually thoughtful, and by and large tend to the liberal point of view. But to my surprise, many of the commenters who were anti tobacco tax would vote no because they did not trust the state government to use the money for cancer research in California -exactly the argument of the tobacco ad campaign.

Brainwashing was an inisidious technique used by the communists, conservatives used to tell us; they learned well. Brainwashing on a massive scale -this is what’s coming, America.

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