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Editorial: Paying for addiction in at least one productive way

Someone once told two investigative reporters in Washington, D.C., to follow the money. That’s wise advice today, as the amount of money spent on a particular cause and the groups spending it can tell us a lot about what’s really behind a proposition or candidate.

The tobacco companies are spending a combined $40 million on the campaign to defeat Proposition 86. What does it mean when a national conglomerate spends a massive amount of money to extinguish state legislation?

Proposition 86 is called, simply, the Tax on Cigarettes Initiative. It would add an additional tax of 13 cents per cigarette on all sales in the state. That equals about $2.60 per pack. That money would go directly to hospitals for emergency services, nursing education and health insurance for eligible children. It would also be allocated to tobacco-use prevention programs, research and prevention of various cancers.

Tobacco companies are against this initiative because they feel an added tax will reduce the amount of product they sell in California. Smokers may smoke less if cigarettes are more expensive. Young people may not ever start smoking, a big blow to the tobacco industry, since most lifetime smokers begin at a young age.

Just as they spent large amounts but failed to defeat measures to stop smoking in pubic businesses and places of business, they are hoping to protect their profits by stomping out efforts to curtail use of their product. Unfortunately, it’s well-documented that their product causes cancer and even kills.

Since we’re following the money, we must ask and answer the question of why hospitals are the major backers of Proposition 86. Simply put, hospitals are suffering under the burden they are obligated to shoulder, which is the care of the underinsured and uninsured. Since emergency care must be given regardless of ability to pay, hospitals must eat the $47 million in uncompensated care, or they must spread it around to the patients who can pay. Since at least 25 percent of emergency care is related to tobacco use, it’s reasonable to ask smokers to pay for the privilege of continuing a habit that may well land them in a hospital at some point in their lives.

No hidden agenda here. Hospitals are spending money in hopes of offsetting a huge loss in caring for all Californians.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. According to the American Lung Assocation, smoking is directly responsible for about 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and 80 to 90 percent of deaths due to emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Read that again. If you smoke, you are taking a big, unnecessary risk with your life.

But, it’s a free country, or so we’d like to think. And smokers are free to exercise their right to smoke. They’re also free to pay the tax that may keep youngsters from the same addiction, while helping shoulder the rising costs of health care.