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Big Tobacco Is Trying to Mislead California Voters

Tobacco companies have a history of trying to mislead the public. Typically, tobacco tax money goes into the state's general fund. But that's not how Proposition 56 works.

Tobacco companies and their allies are once again trying to mislead the public.

I've come to expect tobacco and its allies to do whatever it takes to get a new generation addicted to its products. But even I was taken aback by what tobacco allies included in their draft ballot argument against Proposition 56. That's a tobacco tax measure on California's November ballot that, if passed, would help protect children from the dangers of tobacco and e-cigarettes.

Based on their draft argument against Proposition 56, tobacco allies are trying to argue that it would "shortchange" and "cheat" schools out of promised revenues.

That's just not true. The tobacco companies' argument relies on misleading voters about how Proposition 56 works and how California funds our schools.

What's going on? Proposition 56 would increase California's cigarette tax by $2 per pack, with an equivalent increase on other nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

The tobacco companies are hoping voters will believe that tobacco tax money typically goes into the state's general fund. But that's not how Proposition 56 works. And it's not how other tobacco tax propositions have worked. But the tobacco companies are hoping voters will be confused and then vote "no."

It's a cynical strategy. But it's one that has worked. Tobacco companies have a history of trying to mislead the public.

So what's really happening? Proposition 56 proposes to use the money it raises for specific purposes. This is the same approach taken by previous tobacco tax measures approved by California voters. These specific programs include paying the costs of the health care problems created by tobacco addiction, enforcing tobacco laws, and expanding school-based programs to help prevent children from becoming addicted to tobacco.

In fact, if Proposition 56 passes, schools will see more funding for tobacco-prevention efforts than they currently do. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that Proposition 56 would add approximately $20 million for anti-tobacco classroom instruction. That would more than double current funding. Proposition 56 would also ensure that school-based programs created by a 1988 proposition would continue to receive the promised funding.

We believe it's important to address what the U.S. Surgeon General calls a "pediatric epidemic" of tobacco use. A 2012 U.S. Surgeon General's report explained that 90 percent of cigarette smokers first tried smoking by age 18. Each day in the United States, more than 3,800 youths age 18 or younger smoke their first cigarette. And one-third of the California kids who start smoking will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses.

Proposition 56 will help address this epidemic. By increasing the price of tobacco products, it will help prevent children from starting to smoke. It will help address the costs of the health problems created by tobacco use. And it will give more money to schools for their anti-tobacco instruction, cessation, and intervention programs.

I hope California voters won't fall for the tobacco companies' misleading tactics. Proposition 56 would help many kids. And that should be our top priority.

Visit www.cakidscampaign.org to learn more about California ballot initiatives and their impact on our kids.

Kids Action