Armstrong charity gives $1.5M to Calif tobacco tax

By Judy Lin

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 15 2012 2:50 p.m. MST

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Supporters of an initiative on California's June ballot that would raise cigarette taxes to fund cancer research got a boost Wednesday from Lance Armstrong's Livestrong charity as the cycling champion announced a $1.5 million contribution.

The contribution to Proposition 29 is critical to the success of what he described as a David-vs.-Goliath campaign, Armstrong said.

Armstrong, a seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor, said he will put in his personal time to getting Proposition 29 passed. In 2007, he helped persuade Texas voters to pass a $3 billion bond measure to pay for cancer research.

"We feel that Prop. 29 will save lives, stop kids from smoking and just may lead us to a cure by adding $1 to the current tobacco tax," he told reporters on a conference call. "Big tobacco and the tobacco companies will spend tens of millions of dollars to defeat this proposition. They say anything and do anything to get Californians to vote no."

Supporters say the initiative, if passed, would help adults stop smoking, prevent more children from starting, and make California the largest source of cancer research after the federal government.

The initiative's sponsor, the American Cancer Society, gave an additional $1 million, while the American Lung Association gave $250,000. That brings the total amount in support of Proposition 29 to more than $4 million.

The campaign against the initiative has raised about $2.6 million from tobacco company Phillip Morris.

Teresa Casazza, president of the California Taxpayers Association, said the $855 million tax hike will create a new bureaucracy with little accountability to taxpayers. She noted that California already is struggling with unemployment and a budget deficit exceeding $10 billion.

"Now is not the time for Lance Armstrong to come into our state and ask us to support a flawed measure like Prop. 29, which would raise our taxes by nearly $1 billion to create another big-government spending program run by a commission of political appointees," Casazza said in a statement.

The $1 increase in the price of a pack of cigarettes will result in 80,000 lives being saved, said John R. Seffrin, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society. He estimated the initiative will get 120,000 adults to quit smoking and prevent 144,000 children from becoming addicted.

Currently, California imposes an 87-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes. The state collected nearly $839 million from cigarette taxes in 2009-10, according to the Board of Equalization. Tax collections are down from a high of nearly $1.2 billion in 1999-2000.

Law enforcement officials are concerned that high taxes could be driving more smuggling. A portion of the proposed new tax would support efforts against drug smugglers.

In 2007, the state estimated that the state lost about $90 million in excise taxes to contraband distributors.

Proposition 29 is one of two initiatives on the June 5 ballot. The other, Proposition 28, would modify term limits for members of the Assembly and Senate.

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