No on 29: Where There’s Smoke There’s Distortion in Anti-Cigarette Tax Campaign

No Doubt Kaaboo Day 1 2015 (11)
John Hancock

The "No on Proposition 29" campaign has taken the concept of distortion to new heights--or lows, depending on how you view it.

The tobacco industry-supported effort has been working hard to convince voters to turn down the proposition that would add one dollar to each pack of cigarettes.

California ranks 33rd among the states in tobacco taxes. 

To date, tobacco interests have spent $40 million against the initiative, compared with less than $4 million raised by the proponents.

The industry spent $65 million to defeat another proposed tax increase in 2006.

The arguments this time around are remarkably similar to the misleading claims made in 2006. There are no lies per se, which makes the campaign almost artful in a devious sort of way. If nothing else, the opponents deserve an award for wordsmithing. So let's take a closer look.

The principal thrust comes via a television ad where a physician decries the proposal as a waste of tax payer dollars by stating that "not one penny goes for new spending on cancer treatment."

Technically, she's right because the money would be dedicated for cancer research. Of course, the benefits from research ultimately extend to improved treatment.

In the "No on 29" ad, the spokesperson complains that the proposition would "spend money in other states."

Well, if the intent is to provide money for cancer research, it would make sense that some research might well be conducted where the best experts reside.  Hmmmm.

Finally, the ad ends with the complaint that the proposal is nothing more than a huge bureaucracy.

Few words offend taxpayers more than the term "bureaucracy" because for many, the word is synonymous with government waste.

Never mind that police, firefighters, librarians, park rangers, teachers, DMV personnel, life guards, and yes, state-paid physicians are all bureaucrats.

Of course, we won't know for a month whether the "No on 29" campaign succeeds. Regardless, the effort once again reminds us how easy it is to to turn the the simplest proposition on its head with enough resources.

The question is, will the voters see through the smoke?

Larry Gerston teaches political science at San Jose State University and is the political analyst at NBC Bay Area.

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