A Los Alamitos doctor is under fire for opposing a ballot measure that would add a $1 tax to a pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products, raising $700 million a year for cancer research.
Proposition 29 supporters vowed to picket outside the office of internist Marcy Zwelling at the Los Alamitos Medical Center on Wednesday.
In a statement released Tuesday, Prop. 29 supporters described the protest as “a demonstration in Los Alamitos to demand that Dr. Marcy Zwelling stop serving as a spokesperson for Big Tobacco and immediately rescind her opposition to the Proposition 29 campaign. Big Tobacco used Dr. Zwelling as a ballot signatory against Prop 29. Prop 29 supporters want to know why a doctor would serve as a spokesperson for an industry that killed over 100 million people in the twentieth century.”
However, Zwelling said her stance on the measure is not about condoning tobacco use. Rather, she said, it’s about opposition to ineffectual government bureaucracy funded by taxpayer’s money.
“It’s a free country and, therefore, people should be able to speak their minds,” Zwelling said of the planned protest. She suggested Proposition 29 supporters haven’t read the ballot measure or studied its consequences.
“It’s not about stopping smoking,” she said. “I would agree that everyone should stop smoking.”
California already has the second-lowest smoking rate in the country, Zwelling said. Increasing taxes won’t stop people from smoking, but it will create more bureaucracy, she added.
“I just think it’s the wrong bill, and we can do better than that,” said Zwelling.
About 15 percent -- more than $100 million -- of the taxes raised annually under Prop. 29 would go toward construction of new buildings to house more bureaucracy, said Zwelling.
Zwelling is misrepresenting the tax, said Charlie Smith, a volunteer for the American Cancer Society and former chairman of the board for the society’s California division.
Sixty percent of the money raised would go toward cancer research, 20 percent for cessation and prevention programs, 15 percent to build facilities for tobacco-related cancer research, 3 percent to police agencies to enforce tobacco laws, and 2 percent toward administrative costs.
“The Center for Disease Control has come out with a very in-depth study showing that for every 10 percent increase in the price of tobacco,  percent of adults quit and 7 percent of youths stop smoking,” said Smith. "By increasing the cost by $1, more than 100,000 adults lives are going to be saved, and 228,000 children alive today are not going to smoke.”
The vast majority of the medical community supports the measure, including the 35,000-strong California Medical Association, which voted to endorse Prop 29, said Smith.
In staging the protest, Prop. 29 supporters hope to get out the message that “just because the tobacco companies can find one or two doctors in the entire state,” it doesn’t mean that the medical community opposes the measure, said Smith.
On June 5, voters will decide the fate of the initiative, which is described on the ballot as imposing an “additional $1.00 per pack tax on cigarettes and an equivalent tax increase on other tobacco products. Revenues fund research for cancer and tobacco-related diseases. Fiscal impact: Net increase in cigarette excise tax revenues of about $735 million annually by 2013-14 for certain research and tobacco prevention and cessation programs. Other sales and local revenue increases amounting to tens of millions of dollars annually.”
At Wednesday’s protest, volunteers will ask people to sign a petition asking Zwelling to rescind her opposition to Prop 29. The effort is largely funded by Yes on 29, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and American Cancer Society Ballot Committee.
TELL US YOUR VIEWS IN THE COMMENTS
What do you think? Is Dr. Zwelling on the wrong or right side of the cigarette tax proposition? Is it fair to picket her office?