Proponents of a ballot measure to increase tobacco taxes by $2 are airing a TV ad explaining why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association and American Academy of Pediatrics support Proposition 56.
The 30-second ad, “Yes on 56 – Why Yes?,” makes a series of claims about tobacco’s toll on society and the benefits of raising taxes. Here’s a description of the ad and an analysis of the pro-tax coalition’s claims.
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It’s out there targeting our kids, hooking more each year. Smoking is still killing Californians and costing taxpayers billions. That’s why the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and pediatricians say Yes on Prop 56. It’s a proven way to prevent kids from starting to smoke and it works like a user fee so smokers pay their fair share of health costs. Tobacco still targets kids. It’s our job to protect them. Vote Yes on 56.
The ad also says tobacco kills 40,000 Californians and costs taxpayers $3.5 billion every year.
The pro-tax coalition was mostly careful to stick to the facts. The group borrowed data and evidence cited by the U.S. surgeon general and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support the annual death rate for smoking-related illnesses in California and the statement that raising taxes prevents kids from getting hooked on tobacco in the first place. The estimate that tobacco costs California taxpayers $3.5 billion is slightly low. The campaign based its number on a CDC estimate of direct Medi-Cal costs related to tobacco use in 2004 and then adjusted it based on inflation rates in 2009. Using the same calculator, the estimated cost in 2015 was over $4 billion.
It’s difficult to prove the allegation that the industry is still directly targeting children today, although many others have made similar claims.
Children are exposed to tobacco advertising through retail settings, online and other forms of marketing, although tobacco companies say they don’t intentionally target young people. In the past the industry has been sanctioned for promotions that appeal to children too much, such as the long defunct cartoon character Joe Camel.
The pro-tax coalition is mostly talking about e-cigarettes. Today many of the big tobacco companies sell e-cigarettes in a variety of flavors, such as R.J. Reynolds’ Vuse vapor products that taste like “chai” or “berry.” The campaign and health advocates say the flavors are a direct attempt to appeal to young people.
Meanwhile, as companies spend more to market e-cigarettes – a growing category in the industry – several studies have shown that e-cigarette use is rising among teens. A recent study conducted by the University of Texas found that middle and high school students who had tried e-cigarettes were more likely to have seen e-cigarette marketing than their nonsmoking peers.
One claim, however, appears to stretch the truth: the suggestion that the tobacco tax works like a user fee for smokers to pay their share of state health costs.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that up to $1 billion of the revenue from the new tobacco tax will go to Medi-Cal, a joint federal and state program that helps pay health care costs – including coverage for tobacco illnesses – for qualifying low-income families. The problem with the proponents’ comparison is that many smokers are not on Medi-Cal and will still pay the increased tax. It doesn’t work like a user fee if someone has private insurance, pays the higher tobacco tax and doesn’t get to access the program the tax supports.
PoliGRAPH is The Bee’s political fact checker, rating campaign advertisements and candidate claims as True, Iffy or False.