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Wilson to Sign Bill Raising Cigarette Tax 2 Cents a Pack : Legislation: Revenue will pay for increased breast cancer research and prevention efforts. State business community opposed the measure.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Gov. Pete Wilson will sign legislation raising cigarette taxes by two cents a pack to pay for increased breast cancer research and prevention, his aides said Monday.

“Breast cancer is the leading killer of women in this country,” Wilson said in a statement released by his office. “We should be doing everything we can to find a cure for this terrible disease.”

Wilson, in deciding to sign the bill, overrode objections from the state’s business community, the tobacco industry and his own Finance Department, which advises the governor on fiscal issues.

The governor also set aside his own oft-stated opposition to earmarking state tax dollars for a particular purpose.

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“There are exceptions to every rule,” said Dan Schnur, Wilson’s chief spokesman. “There is such a clear and compelling need for further action in this area that we felt it was incumbent for the state to do everything possible to assist.”

Currently, the state tax on cigarettes is 35 cents per pack, including a 25-cent tax enacted by voters in 1988, when they passed Proposition 99. The money raised by Proposition 99 is restricted primarily to health care programs and anti-smoking efforts.

The additional two-cent tax is expected to raise about $38 million annually. Half of the money will go into a special fund for breast cancer research, and the remainder will be allocated for mammograms and biopsies for uninsured women.

A pack of 20 cigarettes now sells for between $2 and $3.

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Although the tax bill Wilson will sign applies only to cigarettes, the increased cigarette tax will trigger an increase in the Proposition 99 tax on all tobacco products. It was unclear Monday how much more buyers of pipe tobacco, cigars and chewing tobacco will be required to pay.

“This is a tremendous victory for the women of California,” said Assemblywoman Barbara Friedman, the North Hollywood Democrat who sponsored the legislation. “The state has finally taken action to respond to this plague. This is the most far-reaching breast cancer program ever launched by a state.”

In opposing the bill, the tobacco industry argued that there was no proven link between smoking and breast cancer. The tobacco companies also said a cigarette tax is a regressive form of taxation borne most heavily by the poor.

But the industry, which can harness enormous lobbying power on issues on which it has an interest, was also busy fighting a far-reaching anti-smoking bill that was moving through the Legislature this year. Blocking that bill, which would have banned smoking in virtually every workplace, was the industry’s top priority.

The California Manufacturers Assn.--a strong ally in Wilson’s campaign to improve the state’s business climate--also opposed the measure. The association complained that tying a popular program like breast cancer prevention to a shrinking revenue source--tobacco taxes--means that eventually other taxes will have to be raised to maintain the funding.

Within the Wilson Administration, the governor’s advisers were divided on the issue. The Finance Department opposed it, citing the higher tax and restrictions on how the money would be used. But Wilson’s Health and Welfare Agency supported the measure as a step forward in disease prevention.

The governor’s wife, Gayle, also supported the bill and reportedly urged Wilson to sign it. He will enact the legislation at an event on Friday that originally was scheduled as a ceremony to honor his wife for her anti-smoking efforts.

After failing to win passage of a similar bill a year ago, Friedman ushered this year’s measure through the Legislature without a vote to spare. The bill passed in the Assembly despite overwhelming opposition from Republicans and won approval on a bipartisan vote in the Senate.

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Friedman attributed the bill’s success to the fact that breast cancer cuts across all ethnic and socioeconomic characteristics. Nationally, she said, nearly 45,000 women died of the disease in 1992 and 180,000 more cases of breast cancer were diagnosed.

“Every member of the Legislature has had some personal experience with breast cancer,” she said. “If it’s not a member of their family then it is a friend.”


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