Californians Get Ready To Vote On Proposed $1-Per-Pack Cigarette Tax Increase

Despite that general air of clean living Californians exude, an initiative before voters tomorrow that would add an additional $1 tax to each pack of cigarettes is facing an uncertain future. That’s partly due to the $50 million Big Tobacco has rustled up to oppose the tax.

While the tobacco industry has been spending millions on a media campaign to kill Proposition 29, proponents of the tax like Lance Armstrong, Steve Jobs’ widow Lauren Powell Jobs and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg have been speaking out in support of it.

It’s fairly cheap in California to smoke right now, as it’s one of a few states that hasn’t increased taxes on cigarettes in the last decade, points out CBS News. If the tax does become a reality, the state would still only have the 16th highest rate in the nation, at around $1.87 a pack.

And while smoking rates are pretty low in California, at 12.1%, it’s a big market for the tobacco industry. In 2010, smokers bought around 970 million packs of cigarettes, spending about $5.2 billion.

Tobacoo companies like Marlboro-maker Altria Group Inc., RJ Reynolds and other companies say that voter approval of such a tax in such a large cigarette market would hurt small business owners and kick off anti-smoking measures elsewhere. Which, of course, would be bad for them.

Despite such heavy media attention, the initiative’s fate is still uncertain.

The Public Policy Institute of California found that support for the initiative dropped from 67 percent in March to 53 percent by late May, reflecting the blizzard of radio and TV ads from the tobacco industry.

A statewide Field Poll released Thursday found that 50 percent of likely voters said they will vote yes on the measure, with 42 percent voting no and 8 percent undecided.

Lance Armstrong takes on Big Tobacco in Calif. [CBS News]