By Hardy L Brown
Proposition 29 is controversial in the Black community because some say a no vote is consent towards the spread of cancer in our community. Others say a yes vote is consent to provide employment to members outside of the community with no accountability to the public. I know from personal experience that some will continue to smoke reducing food to family members with the knowledge that smoking is harmful to their health and well-being. While both sides have good arguments, as a former smoker and grower of tobacco, the best approach one might argue is to make tobacco illegal altogether. Of course I am not going to advocate that because unemployment would go up and the tax revenue would go down for our government.
The people supporting this proposition are also saying adding one dollar onto the already 87 cents tax on cigarettes will discourage smokers and will give us an additional $700 million a year for research. I have heard this all my life as a boy growing up in the tobacco country of North Carolina and as a smoker of cigarettes in a community of smokers, tobacco chewers and snuff dippers. But that didn’t stop people from using tobacco products.
One thing that is bad about this $700 million is that no one can change the law for 15 years nor would the legislature be able to change the law or have any say over how and where the money is spent. Remember what happened to First 5.
The only thing that has remained constant on both sides of these arguments is who is going to make money off of the poor people who use tobacco which is a legal product. The makers of tobacco products want to sell their products and make money while the “do gooders” want to make money to line their pockets in the name of doing a good thing. Both are targeting the same population which comprises of a disproportionate number of Black people. Neither side is providing jobs nor offering business opportunities to African Americans to make our communities healthy.
I remember when the only corporations in America that were doing business with Black people were the tobacco and spirit companies. Then along came many organizations that criticized them for doing that, but offered nothing to replace the jobs or business opportunities that would have been lost. So many people kept on smoking and drinking to hide the emptiness left from not having financial resources. Now I am not advocating that we should keep on using tobacco products but I do not think the poor users should be taxed without getting some financial benefits from the $700 million a year pot of funds that will be created. The way Prop 29 is written, the people of California might be the biggest losers with the African American community being hit the hardest.
How many Black researchers are going to be leading the research? How many law enforcement agencies are going to add diversity to their departments to keep under age Black youth from buying tobacco products? How many researchers will reach into the heart of the Black community for a serious study and preventative education programs? How many procurement opportunities will be given to the African American small business owners as they build buildings, buy office furniture, and hire employees? How many health research offices will be in our communities where our people live?
While I am in favor of finding a cure for cancer, Proposition 29 is not the way because it is misleading. I urge a NO vote on Proposition 29.