California’s Tobacco Tax: Campaign Funds For & Against Prop. 29

If Proposition 29 passes the taxes on a pack of cigarettes would rise to $1.87. (Flickr/Fried Dough)

Voters in California are deciding today whether to boost the sales tax on a pack of cigarettes by a dollar.

Many bucks have been poured into the campaign from both sides. Still these graphics from the nonprofit MapLight.org (drawing on data from the California Secretary of State) suggest the contributions have been a bit lopsided.

Those supporting the tax – including New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Laurene Powell Jobs – have gathered up $12.3 million:

Funding for Yes on Prop 29 (MapLight.org)

Those fighting the tax rounded up a smokin’ $46.8 million:

Funding for No on Prop 29 (MapLight.org)

This morning Forbes distilled the issue to Billionaries V. Big Tobacco, and gave some background on the backers from both side.

Two recent polls reported that the tax measure was leading with a slight margin .

Bloomberg, who is worth $22 billion, has developed the reputation of a nanny mayor, after banning smoking in public places in New York City in February 2011 and banning trans-fats in 2006. Last week the mayor took some heat for a proposal to ban the sale of large-sized sugary drinks.

Both Bloomberg and Jacobs, worth $1.4 billion as of March this year, have signed on to Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, in which the very wealthy agree to give away at least half their fortunes. In his letter explaining why he signed the pledge, Bloomberg singles out anti-tobacco issues as an area of interest: “For instance, with private funding, we can prevent tens of millions of premature deaths caused by tobacco-related diseases and traffic accidents -just two areas where my foundation has been active.”

What’s fascinating is the national involvement in this state ballot measure. As Kelly Phillips Erb points out, California is a such a huge state that with its 40 million people, it ranks as one of the largest markets for cigarettes.

Sarah Varney wrote on this blog that it would be the first tax hike on cigarettes in the state in 13 years:

California voters are schizophrenic when it comes to regulating smoking. Polls show broad support for bans on smoking on sidewalks and public parks. Some cities have even outlawed smoking in apartment buildings.

But in 2006, the state’s voters rejected a ballot measure to hike cigarette taxes. While California was once the most aggressive state in taxing cigarettes, the tax rate here is lower than that of 32 other states. At 87 cents a pack, California’s cigarette taxes are 60 cents lower than the national average.

Proposition 29 — on the ballot June 5 — would change that. It would raise the tax on cigarettes to almost $2 a pack.

Here’s more information about who smokes in the state of California at KQED’s News Ed Project The Lowdown.

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