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Would tobacco tax money go out of state?

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Both sides of the Proposition 29 debate are making a big deal about whether or not the cancer research that would be funded by the proposed tobacco tax will go exclusively to California labs or be distributed, in part, to research centers elsewhere.

Well, who cares? If major breakthroughs in lung cancer research come to pass in Houston rather than Palo Alto, should we really be concerned? Yes, the $810 million in funding that’s expected to come from tobacco sales in the program’s first year will have a stimulating effect on the economies of the areas surrounding recipient labs. So there’s ample reason to try and keep those research dollars in state.

But the purpose of the initiative is to cut smoking rates by dissuading young smokers — all smokers — from lighting up, and that can and will be achieved by raising the tax.

Proposition 29 would increase the tax from 87 cents per pack to $1.87, bringing California from 33rd among the states in tobacco taxes — significantly under the U.S. average — to 16th.

Just as important, the tax revenue would go to cancer research and the study of other tobacco-related diseases. Everyone, no matter what state they live in, benefits when those two things happen: Taxpayers benefit when former smokers don’t have to visit health care facilities on the public dime, and everyone benefits when we have new treatments and new care models for various cancers.

But what about the “vast, new bureaucracy” that Prop. 29 will create? If opponents are referring to the panel that will decide which research institutions are best equipped to use those millions of dollars to develop cures, that seems reasonable. Unless, that is, California should forgo the “bureaucracy” and leave its funding decisions to, say, the governor.

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