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Commentary: Prop. 29 Must be Defeated, for California’s Sake and for the Country’s

4 Jun 2012

Tomorrow, Californians will vote on Prop. 29, a measure that would increase already-high cigar taxes in the Golden State by a whopping 73%. In the short term, the consequences of the outcome will be confined to the state, and those who own cigar shops will be hardest hit. In the long term, the implications could be national.

Those of us who follow cigar rights issues won’t be surprised to learn that anti-tobacco politicians, groups, and other zealots are aiming to curtail the sale and enjoyment of cigars through radically high taxes—particularly in California. While few will come right out to admit it (at least for now), the goal of many of these extremists is to completely wipe tobacco from the face of the planet.

But that ambitious plan is on hold for a while. Now, the battle is over a massive tax hike that would drive cigar purchases out of state and devastate small tobacconists.

What’s surprising about this proposed tax hike, however, is that the nearly $800 million in revenue it is projected to raise will not be used to stuff state coffers. There is no requirement the collected money be spent in California, and as much as 40% of the funds can go to overhead, as opposed to actual research. That’s particularly interesting because California’s finances are in complete shambles. “California has a $16 billion budget deficit, a $200 billion long term debt, and an 11% unemployment rate, one of the highest in the country,” said Keith Park, founder of Prometheus, a Los Angeles-based purveyor of fine cigars and accessories. “In this dire financial situation, the American Cancer Society, bicycle celebrity Lance Armstrong, and billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are sponsoring a people’s referendum…which will make California smokers pay $735 million in new taxes for cancer research for the whole nation.”

You read that right. California can’t keep its own house in order, but Prop. 29 proponents are suggesting the revenue from Californian tobacco taxes should flow out of the state. “The larger problem with Proposition 29 is its pigeonholing of the money for cancer research rather than for immediate needs here in California that are absolutely dire,” writes Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times. “It’s all well and good to say that cancer research benefits everyone, but the real question is whether it should be the absolute top priority for a state that can’t afford to keep its children fed or offer them medical care in the here and now.”

Of course, since we’re talking about California, these matters won’t be vetted though a normal legislative process. Instead, they’ll be put to a popularity contest at the polls tomorrow. “The California premium cigar retailers, distributors, and manufacturers have formed California Citizens Against Wasteful Taxes to defeat Prop. 29,” says Park. “The election is so close that no one can anticipate the final outcome. The voter turnout among cigar smokers will make a huge difference.”

Of National Concern

The typical cigar enthusiast who lives outside California might be tempted to think that this is a non-issue for him. If Californians want to pay outrageous taxes to support medical research notwithstanding their own budget problems, then who am I to complain?

This dismissal would be a huge mistake. States like California and New York, sadly, have paved the way for anti-tobacco measures that are now commonplace nationwide. For instance, California was the first state to ban smoking in most workplaces at a time when such a move was considered radical. Government-imposed smoking bans in restaurants, bars, and most indoor locations across the country are now the rule instead of the exception. So if Prop. 29 passes, don’t be surprised to see a similar bill proposed in a state legislature near you in the coming years.

Given the combination of federal, state, and local taxes levied on tobacco, cigar enthusiasts already pay more than their fair share. So let’s do everything we can to prevent California from setting another terrible trend. If you live in California, please be sure to get out to the polls to vote no on Prop. 29. And if you don’t, I would also urge you to contact your friends and family members in California to urge them to vote a resounding “no” as well.

Patrick A

photo credit: Defeat Prop. 29

18 Responses to “Commentary: Prop. 29 Must be Defeated, for California’s Sake and for the Country’s”

  1. George E Monday, June 4, 2012 at 10:30 am #

    On another legislative front, seven more House members signed up June 1 to HR1639 to prohibit FDA regulation of premium cigars, pushing to number of cosponsors over 195.

  2. Phillip Monday, June 4, 2012 at 10:51 am #

    This is top-notch commentary, and I agree completely. California and New York would ruin the whole country if they had their way. Let's do all we can to make sure this lousy prop doesn't pass.

  3. Jethro Monday, June 4, 2012 at 2:07 pm #

    Implementing and/or raising taxes in order to fund research is a non-productive effort. The proportion of research dollars that are spent on "expenses" and "administration" is obscene and, for the money spent (bang for the buck), the return is minimal at best, and nil at the norm. Public tax dollars should be spent only where the return is direct and tangible.

  4. michaeljmcfadden Monday, June 4, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

    85% voting to impose a tax on 15% seems somewhat unAmerican.

    What if the US held a vote to avoid having to bail California out of its 360 BILLION dollar debt by imposing an extra 25% sales tax on all Californians' purchases? California is about 15% of the US population so it would be the same sort of vote. How could they complain if they voted something like Prop 29 in? It would "be for their own good" after all.

    This tax will also force smokers to pay for a campaign to increase FUTURE taxes on themselves as part of "tobacco prevention." Did you ever hear of any other minority group getting hit with a tax to be spent on raising their taxes?

    If I was a California smoker and this tax went through, I would be strongly tempted to never buy another legal cigarette in the state again — even if the black market prices were HIGHER than the legitimate ones! Of course the black market is always cheaper — and this tax will double its size and make cigarettes far more available to children; but the Antismokers don't really care about that: the point is to fill their own coffers while playing a social engineering game. Shock "the rats" by throwing them outside in lousy weather, and then shock them again by taking what they value (their money) if they engage in "inappropriate behavior" (buying cigarettes.)

    If this tax DOES pass, I think it may have some very pronounced "unintended consequences" out there.

    Michael J. McFadden,
    Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

    • Chris S Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 7:35 am #

      Wonderful pieces of writing Michael. I think the most interesting thing you said was about the lack of education in our youth. There becomes a sizable problem when people are led to believe that all smoking is bad, and deadly when numerous studies have shown that people who enjoy an occasional cigar are at no increased risk of cancer or disease. This is the kind of move that Huxley was speaking about in his dystopian society, where the inundation of information leads to political gain.

    • Alston Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

      You are absolutely right! The only tobacco stores in Ca. will be head shops celling flavored crap and water pipes!

  5. michaeljmcfadden Monday, June 4, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

    I'd like to add another quick note: This article focuses on the money trail and connections to the tobacco companies, but it would have been interesting if they'd tried the same sort of analysis regarding the connections between the "Yes On 29" folks and the antismoking industry. Big Pharma makes a very nice profit off their NicoGummyPatchyProducts and they can charge nicely higher prices for them after taxes on smokes go up. Of course they also do well when their "connections" (e.g. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) push for increased smoking bans. Stanton Glantz and the Universities make out like bandits from the hundreds of millions that pour their way from "tobacco prevention" research, and even the big charities like ACS et al make back their investments in spades when they're seen to be doing "good work" like "protecting the children" in their ads.

    The tobacco companies are outspending the Antismokers in this ballot by 3 or 4 to 1, but to balance their image problem (basically sort of "Child Molesters vs. Mother Theresa") they'd have to spend triple that to get anything like a "level playing field." And that fact explains why, in so much of the Pro-Prop 29 advertising you've seen the ads are little more than attack ads against the tobacco industry… with not a word being said about the people who'll actually be PAYING the tax: smokers from predominantly lower income brackets.

    Think about those things before you go to vote.

    – MJM

  6. Travis @ TPD Monday, June 4, 2012 at 11:59 pm #

    I and everybody I know will be voting No on Prop 29 tomorrow. This is just sad and pathetic on so many levels. The state is drowning under a tsunami of its own debt, brick and mortar tobacco shops will go out of business if this passes, consumers will end up paying more or be forced to go online more frequently….

    The only thing "golden" about California anymore is its weather. Everything else is a cesspool.

  7. Donna Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 2:27 am #

    I will be voting Yes on Prop29 tomorrow!!! If your loved one was diagnosed with cancer and perhaps even died from it wouldn't you want there to be a cure for cancer???

    • Jack Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 9:00 am #


      Many people have had family members die from cancer. and would be thrilled if there were a cure.. but if you make your decision on that basis then you aren't using logic and you are ignoring the real issue.

      Instead you should ask your self these relevant questions:
      1 – Is the unaccountable entity created by Act 29 (where the Board members will be voting their own institutions grant money) a better use of money than all the other things California needs money for?
      2- If this is a good use of money, is it fair for the minority of people who are smokers (the ones pro-29 people claim are "victims" and who already pay bery high taxes) to pay for it, or would it be better if the taxes were applied broadly to all or most citizens?

      I'd suggest, if you answer yes to both questions, then you are lying to yourself and us.

    • Alston Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

      My father died of lung cancer after smoking for 40 years. He was a PHYSICIAN and knew the risk AS DO ALL SMOKERS.. The government does not have to regulated everything in our lives as it is trying to do.

      Tell your loved one to QUIT SMOKING and stop worrying about me and what I want.

  8. Chris S Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 7:39 am #

    To me this is political hypocrisy at it's finest. How does a state that has legalized the inhalation of marijuana products attempt to curb tobacco smoking? While most scientific outlets have said there was minimal physical harm in marijuana smoking, most doctors agree that the sample size is much too small, and that they are skeptical of assigning a prescription for any burning plant matter.

  9. Patrick Ashby Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    UPDATE: Today, from the IPCPR:

    "It appears the price of cigars in California will remain the same as voters yesterday narrowly defeated Proposition 29, an initiative that called for the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products to be raised considerably. As of this morning, the tally showed that 50.8 percent of the people voted 'No' on Proposition 29, while 49.2 percent voted 'Yes' in favor of passing the initiative. While all of the precincts in the state have reported, the results are not considered official until all provisional and absentee ballots are counted."

    Other sources are calling the vote too close to call for right now. We may not know the official outcome for a few more days. In the meantime, thanks to all those who voted NO and all those who encouraged their family and friends in California to do the same.

  10. michaeljmcfadden Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    The "NO" votes ended up 64,000 ahead of the "YES" votes. For the decision to be changed by such mechanisms as digging up absentee ballots etc, it would take a lot more than 64,000 missing votes. For a change to be realistic enough to pass muster, the missing votes couldn't arrive in a ratio that much different than reality. Anything much over 55% to 45% in favor of the tax would have a very distinct smell. And at the 55% to 45% ratio you would need (if my quick in the head math is not failing me…) over a half million absentee votes to change the results.

    The antismoking industry has a lot of power, but I doubt they can pull something like THAT out of this bag.

    In terms of the reporting on this story: if the vote had gone the OTHER direction, would we still be seeing the headlines of the vote being "too close to call" rather than "won? And notes that the outcome is "still uncertain"? If votes like this can be "fixed" after the fact, how will anyone have any faith at all in the outcome of November's elections?

    – MJM

  11. michaeljmcfadden Saturday, June 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm #

    It's now June 16th. Since June 6th (when we were told there were about 700,000 absentee votes outstanding) there have now been over ONE MILLION new votes added to the original totals, (new total: 4,892,000 votes) and they are STILL counting and discovering them. The newest batch of 100,000 were counted as showing ALMOST SEVENTY PERCENT of the new voters as being in favor of taxing smokers, reducing the NO lead down to 20,000. Is this the way the presidential race is going to be run in California too?

    If this tax passes no smoker should EVER buy another legal cigarette in California.

    – MJM

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