Student Well-Being

Calif. Initiative Would Spend Cigarette-Tax Hike on Children

By Linda Jacobson — October 21, 1998 2 min read
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Early last year, Rob Reiner stepped out of his roles as an award-winning actor and director and entered the world of policy and politics with a national public-awareness campaign about the developmental needs of young children.

On Nov 3., Californians will decide whether he is as effective an activist as he is a filmmaker.

Mr. Reiner is the chairman of the California Children and Families Initiative, an effort to raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from 37 cents to 87 cents and use the estimated $700 million a year in extra money to support health, nutrition, and education programs for infants and young children.

Supporters of Proposition 10 span the ideological spectrum and include Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, Republican former Rep. Michael Huffington, actor Robin Williams, and the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, the nationally televised minister.

The belief behind Proposition 10 is that spending money on programs for young children will pay off later in savings in such areas as special education, juvenile justice, and welfare.

The proposition would amend the state constitution to create a seven-member commission at the state level to oversee the money collected from the tax. Twenty percent of the proceeds would be used for statewide programs, such as parent education, training for child-care providers, and a multimedia campaign to encourage pregnant women and parents of young children to quit smoking.

The remainder would be spent on programs for children at the county level. Such spending would be managed by locally appointed commissions, which would adopt strategic plans for using the money.

A Los Angeles Times poll last month showed Proposition 10 had the support of 54 percent of respondents; campaign organizers say their polls suggest the initiative will pass with roughly 60 percent of the vote.

The proposal may not be a shoo-in, however. Mike Roos, the initiative’s campaign manager, said he expects tobacco companies to spend between $20 million and $40 million to defeat the measure.

Television advertising from the opposition began running Oct. 1. The ads claim that Proposition 10 would create new levels of bureaucracy, and they criticize the initiative because it would not increase funding for the public schools.

Proposition 10 supporters raised about $9 million for advertising and began running television and radio spots last week.

“We know it’s going to be a really hard fight because they are just going to outspend us,” Kristina Parham, a Proposition 10 campaign spokeswoman, said of the opposition.

Celebrities United

But the pro-initiative camp has celebrity on its side. In addition to the liberal Mr. Reiner, actor Charlton Heston, a prominent conservative, and former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop appear in the ads.

Proposition 10 could have a ripple effect across the country, said Michael Levine, a program officer at the Carnegie Corporation of New York City, which supports a variety of early-childhood programs, including the “I Am Your Child” campaign, also led by Mr. Reiner.

If the measure passes, Mr. Levine expects groups in other states to use the initiative process to enact similar means of paying for services for young children. Residents of 16 states, including California, can amend their constitutions through a ballot initiative.

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