Court upholds Prop. 10 tobacco tax as valid

The Associated Press
Thursday November 16, 2000

SAN DIEGO — A San Diego Superior Court judge has rejected a broad legal challenge that sought to halt the collection of tobacco taxes under Propisition 10, the 1998 initiative that collects money for early childhood development programs across the state. 

A coalition of tobacco sellers had argued that the measure championed by actor-director Rob Reiner improperly linked two separate issues: tobacco taxes and children’s health. Judge Ronald Prager ruled there was a credible link between the two since children are hurt both by second-hand smoke and tobacco use by expectant mothers. The proposition has helped reduce tobacco usage, and thus benefitted children’s health, by increasing the cost of cigarrettes and by improving the public’s awareness of related health problems. Some $700 million a year generated by the tax is being distributed to a state commission and 58 county commissions to establish a range of programs benefitting children, such as improved child care facilities and educational programs. 

The judge also rejected arguments that the proposition created an illegal double tax on non-cigarette tobacco products, that state and county commissions set up to distribute the tax money were not adequately supervised, that money had been wasted, and that the tax should be considered a property tax subject to various state provisions. 

Prager noted that California voters had the opportunity in 1999 to overturn Propisition 10 with a counter measure, Propisition 28, but chose not to do so – rejecting that measure by more than 72 percent. 

“It is the duty of the court to jealously guard the power of the people,” he said. The initiative process is “one of the most precious” rights enjoyed by the voters. Thomas Hiltachk, an attorney representing the Cigarettes Cheaper! chain of stores, said the plaintiffs would appeal. 

He was not surprised by Prager’s decision, noting that trial court judges historically do not overturn voter-approved intiatives.  

He expected his side would be successful on the appellate level. 

The plaintiff’s main goal had been to “establish the fact that these county commissions and the state commission really operate outside the government and that they effectively have written the legislature, the governor and our elected representatives out of the process of spending almost a billion dollars a year and that as taxpayers that is something we should be worried about.”