Little Opposition in Arizona

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Little Opposition in Arizona

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Proposition 303 -- the Arizona for a Healthy Future ballot initiative that would add another 60 cents in tax on a pack of cigarettes -- is sailing through with almost no organized opposition at all.

That is in stark contrast to the first time a tobacco tax appeared on the Arizona ballot -- a 40-cent tax in 1994, known then as Proposition 200. Big Tobacco was all over the state that year, pumping nearly $6 million into an advertising blitz in a futile attempt to defeat it, according to the Arizona Daily Star

But just three weeks from Election Day, and other than the occasional anti-tax op-ed piece in a newspaper, and a few letters to the editor from unhappy smokers, no one is telling us not to vote for 303 - a measure that would more than double the cigarette tax, making it the fifth-highest in the nation at $1.18 a pack. "We're not officially opposing it this time, for the simple reason that nobody's spending a penny to counter it, not the tobacco industry, nobody," said Kevin McCarthy of the Phoenix-based Arizona Tax Research Association, a group that joined the tobacco industry in opposition in 1994.

A Philip Morris official said the leading tobacco company has made "no final decisions" on how involved it will get in Arizona. Philip Morris Vice President Michael Pfeil said it is "unfair" to tax a small number of smokers for programs that benefit most Arizonans.

Call Proposition 303 "tax profiling," said David Howard, a spokesman for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. "It's going after a minority population to foot the bill to benefit the entire population." Even so, Howard said his company plans "nothing proactive" to fight 303. "It's just not the best use of our resources right now."

Predicted to produce nearly $150 million in its first full year after passage, Proposition 303 mandates that money be divided among a myriad of popular health-care needs and programs -- with the bulk paying for medical care for uninsured and low-income Arizonans. Slapping another 60 cents on a pack of cigarettes will also cut smoking in Arizona by 10 percent over the next few years -- with the biggest drop among young people, 303 backers say.

Arizona already has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation at 18 percent compared with a national rate of about 24 percent. Arizona smoker numbers dropped in the years after the first tobacco tax was passed by about 20 percent in adult smokers and nearly 25 percent in young adults.