Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Voters Support Smoking Bans, Reject Cigarette Tax Increases

Voters approved smoking ban measures in Ohio, Nevada, and Arizona, but rejected initiatives to substantially increase cigarette taxes in California and Missouri.

Smoking Ban Initiatives

Ohio: By a 58% to 42% margin, voters approved Issue 5, which bans smoking in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. At the same time, by a 64% to 36% margin, voters rejected R.J. Reynolds-sponsored Issue 4, which would have imposed partial smoking bans and overturned existing bans around the state.

Nevada: By a 54% to 46% margin, voters approved Question 5, which bans smoking in many workplaces, including restaurants and bars with a food-handling license, but exempts casinos and stand-alone bars that serve only pre-packaged foods. At the same time, by a 52% to 48% margin, voters rejected Question 4, which would have imposed a partial ban with many exemptions.

Arizona: Unofficial results show that by a 54% to 46% margin, voters approved Proposition 201, which bans smoking in workplaces and public places, including bars and restaurants. At the same time, by a 57% to 43% margin, voters rejected Proposition 206, which would have banned smoking in restaurants without bars but not stand-alone bars or bar areas of restaurants.

Cigarette Tax Measures

California: By a 52% to 48% margin, voters rejected Proposition 86, which would have increased the state's cigarette tax by $2.60 a pack to fund health care programs as well as anti-smoking prevention and education initiatives. The measure was created by California's hospital industry and apparently would have allocated about 40% of the resulting revenues to hospitals.

Missouri: Preliminary results indicate that voters in Missouri rejected, by a 52% to 48% margin, Amendment 3, which would have increased the state's cigarette tax by 80 cents per pack and allocated the revenues for anti-smoking programs and health care spending.

The Rest of the Story

These election results indicate that there is widespread public support for protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke in workplaces and public places, including bars and restaurants, and that the public doesn't seem to support the idea of distinguishing between bars and restaurants in the protection of nonsmokers from tobacco smoke exposure.

The public also appears not to enjoy being fooled and misled, and once the true intent of alleged anti-smoking proposals that actually are tobacco industry-supported efforts to allow smoking are exposed, the public rejects these proposals.

But the results also seem to indicate that the public does not support the idea of using smokers as a source of revenues to fund state health care programs. Voters seem to be rejecting the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' argument that increased cigarette taxes are a "win, win, win" proposition.

I think that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' and other anti-smoking groups' strategy of promoting cigarette tax increases indiscriminately (without regards to the uses of the resulting revenues) may have backfired, because it does not appear that the voters are any longer willing to support large cigarette tax increases, even if the money is allocated towards anti-smoking programs. I think there's only a certain amount that you can ask the public to continually ask smokers to shoulder the burden of paying for state programs, and all of the knee-jerk support for cigarette tax increases has taken us across that line.

The public's distaste for being misled and deceived should lead anti-smoking groups to re-think their strategy of using misleading and inaccurate statements to promote smoking bans. All it takes is for this deception to be revealed to the public and the credibility of the entire smoke-free movement, which obviously is now enjoying tremendous momentum, could be destroyed, threatening the entire enterprise.

It is unfortunate that the anti-smoking groups chose not to correct their misleading statements prior to the election. Correcting this propaganda after the election is going to appear pretty bad, and is going to leave a very sour taste in the public's mouth. For this reason, I doubt that the groups will even bother to correct their misinformation.

While the night was victorious for the right to breathe smoke-free air, that these victories came at the expense of relying on misleading the public about the health effects of secondhand smoke should leave a sour taste in all of our mouths.

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