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Big Tobacco Raises $17 Million To Oppose California Cigarette Tax Increase

File / Charles Rex Arbogast /AP

File / Charles Rex Arbogast /AP

Supporters of California’s cigarette tax on the November ballot say they are bracing for a big money fight with Big Tobacco.

Tobacco companies recently raised $17 million to oppose Prop 56. That proposition would increase the tax on cigarettes by two dollars a pack.

Proponents such as Jim Knox of the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network say they’re preparing for an onslaught of opposition.

“This is classic tobacco industry strategy and deception,” Knox said of the cash infusion. “They will spend tens of millions of dollars to confuse and deceive the voters about the deadly nature of their product, as they have been doing for decades.”  

'Tax hike grab'

Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for No on Prop 56, says her campaign wants to educate voters about the problems it sees with the cigarette tax. She said it sidesteps requirements that money from new taxes fund schools.

“The proponents claim the tax increase will help people quit smoking. But it really is a tax hike grab by the insurance companies and other wealthy special interests,” Miller said.

She noted that campaigning in California “is very expensive.”

'Confident' this time

The money for the ‘No’ side comes as supporters of the measure have raised about $16.6 million for it.

Knox said supporters of Prop 56 will do what it takes to reach voters.

Similar measures to increase the cigarette tax failed in 2006 and 2012. This initiative would also raise the tax on electronic cigarettes.

“We’re confident that this time, unlike the last two measures, which were very narrowly defeated, that we will have the financial resources to be able to fight back against the lies of the tobacco industry,” Knox said. “We’re never going to match them dollar for dollar. But we are confident that we are going to be able to raise the funds that are going to be sufficient to get our word out.”

The cigarette tax increase is one of 17 measures on November’s ballot.