The Proposition for Better Health

Proposition 99, which increased California's cigarette tax from 10 cents to 35 cents a pack, has had two major results in the year since it took effect. Predictably, it boosted cigarette tax revenues by more than 200%, raising nearly $570 million through the third quarter of 1989, the most recent period for which figures are available. This money was earmarked by the voters for health care and educational programs related to tobacco. But more significantly for the long run, Proposition 99 has cut cigarette demand by more than 10%. That's likely to assure longer and healthier lives for tens of thousands of Californians.

It's long been known that cigarette consumption goes down when the price of smoking rises. This is especially important in discouraging younger people from ever taking up the smoking habit. It's also why cigarette companies spent tens of millions of dollars in 1988 trying to defeat Proposition 99. Nicotine is addictive. Some researchers say its grip on the body is harder to break than heroin addiction. The free samples cigarette companies used to give away on places like college campuses and military bases weren't a favor. They were meant to create a dependent clientele.

The U.S. surgeon general blames smoking-related diseases, primarily heart disease and cancers, for killing more than 300,000 Americans a year. Smoking remains the nation's single most preventable cause of illness. Yet for all that is known about its malign effects, for all the anti-smoking propagandizing that has taken place, about 3,000 Americans--most of them young people--become first-time smokers every day. Meanwhile, 150,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed every year, most of them the result of smoking. Proposition 99, by immediately making smoking more expensive, is contributing to the reduction of that terrible toll.

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