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When voters ponder 'cigarette tax,' will they think 'stem cell'?

April 17, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Will California voters may take their feelings about the stem cell initiative, Proposition 71, into the voting booth when it comes time to decide on Proposition 29's cigarette tax?
Will California voters may take their feelings about the stem cell initiative,… (Los Angeles Times )

The proposal is pretty simple: Levy a $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes in California and spend most of the proceeds on medical research. Voters might base their decisions on the matter on questions as simple as whether they oppose any new taxes, or whether they're glad to see a revenue producer that, by raising the price of cigarettes, is sure to lower smoking rates.

But it's also possible that Californians will ponder some deeper questions -- chief among those is whether they want to spend the money to fund research on cancer and cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases. The plan for the cigarette tax, Proposition 29, is sure to strike many voters with its similarities to 2004's Proposition 71, which uses $3 billion in bonds to fund embryonic stem cell research. Like the 2004 initiative, Proposition 29 would create a new agency independent of state government to dole out research grants.

Of course, the two also are different in many ways. Stem cell research was getting short shrift from the federal government when Proposition 71 was passed, and the George W. Bush administration had tied researchers' hands. That gave California a chance to shine nationally; it also gave the state a chance to thumb its nose at a president that many felt was imposing his religious views on science.

Cancer research, in contrast, is well funded by the federal government. Proposition 71 takes its funding from the state's general fund, leaving less money for other programs; Proposition 29 creates a revenue stream to pay for research in the form of a new tax on cigarette smokers.

It's too early to assess the results of Proposition 71. The stem cell agency has spent about half its money, most of that for laboratories and basic research, and more recently has forged relationships with foreign stem cell research efforts.

Many people, of course, expected quick cures from the initiative, but that was never realistic. And when Californians voted for Proposition 71, the state's economy was still generally robust, the housing bubble a few years from bursting.

Yet many voters will take their general feelings about the stem cell initiative into the voting booth when it comes time to decide on Proposition 29. What are your thoughts? Was Proposition 71 a good idea? If you voted for it in 2004, would you vote for it again now?

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