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Tobacco Companies Put Profits Before Kids in Defeating California Ballot Initiative to Raise Cigarette Tax

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 25, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC – By funding a $47 million misinformation campaign, the Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds tobacco companies have again protected their profits at the expense of kids and lives by narrowly defeating a ballot initiative to increase California's cigarette tax by $1 per pack. After two weeks of vote counting, the tally shows the initiative trailing by roughly half a percent, the closest vote in California ballot initiative history.

This ballot battle made it very clear that the tobacco companies have not changed and will go to any length, say anything and spend any amount to keep America's kids smoking.

The huge sums spent against this initiative represent an investment to preserve the pipeline of children the tobacco companies need as replacement smokers for the 400,000 Americans killed each year by cigarettes. They know full well that 90 percent of smokers begin while in their teens or earlier. If this initiative had passed, it would have prevented 228,700 California kids from becoming smokers. That means the tobacco companies spent more than $200 for every child who will become a smoker because of the initiative's defeat. They will no doubt recoup far more than that from selling cigarettes to these new smokers, many of whom will pay a much higher price with their health and lives.

Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds fiercely fought this initiative because they know higher cigarette taxes are very effective at reducing smoking, especially among kids. They also know that the public strongly supports higher cigarette taxes, so they did everything they could to change the subject and make the election about anything but the cigarette tax. Media reports regularly exposed the industry's deceptive tactics, including the creation of an industry front group with a misleading name, 'Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending,' and a massive media campaign that deceived voters about how revenue from the tax would be spent and administered.

The close California vote does not change the fact that the public strongly supports increasing tobacco taxes. National and state polls across the country show overwhelming support for tobacco tax increases — support that extends across party lines, from smokers and non-smokers alike, throughout all regions. Increasing cigarette taxes remains one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids, and the public will continue to support it. Elected officials must side with kids over Big Tobacco and support higher tobacco taxes and other proven measures to reduce tobacco use.