Hot on the heels of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed soda ban, another battle is brewing over government reach into personal health decisions. This past week California entered into debate over Proposition 29, a bill that would raise the tax on cigarettes to $1 a pack.
In the lead up to the vote, which will take place on Tuesday, Big Tobacco has poured almost $47 million into an advertising campaign aimed at highlighting the problems with the potential legislation. One of the major complaints is that the projected $735 million raised from the bill would not be used for closing the staggering $16 billion deficit the state faces.
Among the proponents of the bill are the American Cancer Society, who has spent $7 million in pro-proposition legislation, and Mayor Bloomberg himself, who has contributed $500,00 to the cause.
California was once heralded as a leading state in the anti-tobacco movement, but recent years have seen it overtaken by other states that have passed more stringent smoking regulations and raised fees. In fact, the state legislature has voted down 30 attempts to raise cigarette taxes in the last 30 years. According to Chris Lehman, an organizer behind Proposition 29, quoted in the New York Times: “You think of California as a healthy, progressive state leading in tobacco cessation,” but “it’s just not. And it’s not for lack of trying.”
The vote has garnered national interest and sparked off heated debate on the virtues or vices of state interference in matters of public health. Much of the discussion echoes the conversations taking place across New York City in the wake of Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban announcement; on the one hand there are those who support the governments actions, who believe that something must be done to combat the rampant obesity and smoking that plague much of American society and lead to serious health complications. On the other hand there are those who place freedom of choice above all else, including the negative consequences that may come from a bad decision. Tuesday’s results should provide a window into the heart of the issue.