Back in 1967, I wrote my first news article. It was for 7th grade English class in my public junior high school in Michigan. I attacked smoking. Obviously I was reflecting what they were teaching us, and what the mass media were promoting. The schools still heavily advance anti-smoking health messages.
Lo these five decades later, we’re all familiar with the daily drumbeat of anti-tobacco ads and promotions. In California, it’s illegal to sell tobacco to anyone under 21, even though you can vote and join the military at 18. A pack of cigarettes costs about $10, sometimes higher, most of the price from taxes. And California is the state with the second lowest percentage of smokers, after Utah.
Yet there’s still a lot of money around promoting anti-smoking messages, along with more laws to restrict use. On Wednesday, the American Lung Association in California released its 20th Annual “State of Tobacco Control” Report. The summary is a perfect expression of how to plead for more money: “2022 report recognizes progress, work to be done to reduce tobacco use in California.”
They have to recognize “progress” because it’s obvious few people smoke, and progress shows they’re spending donations to good effect. But “work to be done” means they still need to get funding for their jobs.
The report does provide some interesting information. The state spends $251 million for “tobacco control programs” and the federal government another $3.6 million in California. Total: $251 million.
Yet the association wants to increase that to $348 million for “best practices,” or $97 million more. Well, every other special interest in the state wants a piece of action from the record surpluses. The current funding amount, the association complains, is just 73 percent of the “CDC Recommended Level.” But after the problems with the CDC during the pandemic now being revealed, mentioning it might not have been the best idea.
The state also inhales a whopping $2.8 billion in tax revenues from tobacco sales. So the state itself is a tobacco profiteer.
It’s also curious one recommendation not in the report is for higher taxes. Experience in other states and Canada shows if taxes go too high, the black market in smokes grows and revenues drop.
Overall, California was given a “B” grade for its efforts. Specific grades:
- B: Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Funding;
- A: Smokefree Air;
- B: Tobacco Taxes;
- B: Access to Cessation Services;
- I: Flavored Tobacco Products.
The last is the latest bugaboo of anti-tobacco activists. It’s “I” for incomplete because Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a ban in 2020, Senate Bill 743. But a repeal initiative sponsored by the tobacco industry will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot and already has received $20 million in campaign contributions from the industry.
The argument for banning flavored tobacco is it supposedly attracts children. But given everything kids are exposed to these days, on the internet and broadcast outlets, that seems dubious.
When the initiative qualified last year, Newsom charged, “This is Big Tobacco’s latest attempt to profit at the expense of our kids’ health. California will continue to fight back and protect children from Big Tobacco.”
The tobacco industry also has pointed out how SB 743 was full of hypocrisy because it exempted hookas, flavored pipe tobacco and aromatic cigars from the ban. But hookas are part of some cultures, and cigar smoking is not unknown among legislators. When Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, he even got around the ban on smoking in the Capitol by setting up a cigar-smoking tent outside.
My guess is the initiative will fail. Newsom, who is running for re-election, and other candidates will do a lot of preening on how they are “protecting the children.”
The bottom line is tobacco use is about as low as it can go, including among children. Take it from me. I wrote against it 55 years ago.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.