Proposition to Decrease Tax on Tobacco Incites Debate





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Two representatives from different sides of the ongoing tobacco war squared off on campus yesterday over a ballot proposition.

Charles Janigian, the president of the California Association of Retail Tobacconists, and Jenny Cook, the former chair of the American Cancer Society, came to a Political Science 179 lecture to debate Proposition 28, which will appear on the March 7 ballot.

The proposition calls for the repeal of the 50-cent tax on tobacco that was instituted by the passage of Proposition 10 in 1998. The money collected from the tax is used to fund state children's health programs.

Janigian said Proposition 10 hurts small-business owners in California who depend on tobacco sales.

"My members are really small-business owners, and their livelihoods depend on that business," Janigian said. "Proposition 10 was a large freight train in the middle of the night coming down the track at small-business owners and consumers."

But Cook, a former smoker and longtime member of the American Cancer Society, said most of the tobacco grown in America is exported, contradicting Janigian's claim that higher taxes hurt small farmers.

"We're not only making addicts of Americans, but we're making addicts all over the world," she said.

Cook said studies have shown that the only way to prevent people from dying tobacco-related deaths is to raise cigarette prices.

"My opponent is concerned about his business, and rightly he should be, but I am concerned about the health of Californians," she said.

Sparks also flew over the enforcement of Proposition 10. The ballot initiative hurts California retailers because Californians now buy their tobacco through the mail, on the Internet or on Indian reservations, Janigian said.

"Trying to enforce that all citizens pay the sales tax would be like a return to prohibition and gestapo on the streets of California," he said.

Proposition 10 resulted in the formation of a tremendous bureaucracy that uses almost all of the new tax revenue for overhead costs, Janigian said. He also said it created a system of double taxation, which is illegal, and that the commission it created does not answer to any higher authority.

"This commission has no accountability to the state legislature or the governor and is not accountable to citizens," Janigian said. "We don't feel that this is correct."

Cook said passage of Proposition 28 would definitively end any future California ballot initiatives relating to tobacco.

"(Approximately) 42,000 people in California die a year from tobacco; 432,000 Americans die a year," she said. "If that doesn't tell you tobacco kills, what else can I tell you?"

The two debate participants also disagreed on what role big tobacco companies play in the lobbying process for Proposition 28.

"Big tobacco will not gain by a decrease in tax of 50 cents a pack," Janigian said. "Tobacco is not going to benefit one way or another."

But Cook said the major tobacco companies spend more money lobbying in California than they do nationwide.

"When the price goes down on tobacco, they're going to sell more cigarettes," she said. "They're raising the price of cigarettes to pay for the master settlement."

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