Judge Rejects Tobacco Firms' Challenge to Collection of Taxes Under Prop. 10

From Associated Press

A U.S. Superior Court judge rejected a broad legal challenge Wednesday to the collection of tobacco taxes under Proposition 10, the 1998 initiative that collects money for early childhood development programs across the state.

A coalition of tobacco sellers had argued that the measure championed by actor-director Rob Reiner improperly linked two separate issues: tobacco taxes and children's health. Judge Ronald Prager ruled that there is a credible link between the two because children are hurt both by secondhand smoke and by tobacco use by expectant mothers.

About $700 million a year generated by the tax is being distributed to a state commission and 58 county commissions to establish a range of programs benefiting children, such as improved child care facilities and educational programs.

The judge rejected arguments that the proposition created an illegal double tax on non-cigarette tobacco products, that state and county commissions set up to distribute the tax money were not adequately supervised, that money had been wasted and that the tax should be considered a property tax subject to various state provisions.

Prager noted that California voters had the opportunity in 1999 to overturn Proposition 10 with a countermeasure, Proposition 28, but chose not to do so--rejecting that measure by more than 72%.

"It is the duty of the court to jealously guard the power of the people," he said. The initiative process is "one of the most precious" rights enjoyed by voters.

Thomas Hiltachk, an attorney representing the Cigarettes Cheaper! chain of stores, said the plaintiffs would appeal.

Ned Roscoe, president of Cigarettes Cheaper!, said he remained confident of eventual success.

"The reason we got into this is because we thought we had a responsibility to our customers and to the citizens of California to ensure that the right thing was done," he said. "Proposition 10 is fundamentally flawed."

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