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Calif. Tobacco Dealers Take On Tax

January 8, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Cigar and pipe tobacco dealers have asked the state Supreme Court to overturn a voter-approved tobacco tax that they claim pays for programs unrelated to smoking.

The initiative narrowly approved last November raised state taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents a pack on Jan. 1 and added an equivalent tax to other tobacco products.

The money _ $700 million a year _ will pay for a variety of programs related to early childhood development. The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the California Association of Retail Tobacconists said the efforts have no reasonable relationship to health problems from cigars and pipe tobacco.

But state Controller Kathleen Connell said Thursday the childhood programs are ``designed to educate young people on the dangers of smoking and stop the cultivation of a fresh crop of smokers.″

The lawsuit also said it is illegal to direct state funds to a commission not directly supervised by the governor or Legislature. One-fifth of the money will be distributed at the state level by an appointed commission. The other four-fifths will go to commissions in each county.

``If the Legislature feels there’s too much money being spent, they can’t do anything about it,″ said the association’s lawyer, Edward Lozowicki.

Connell said other state agencies such as the University of California receive state money without direct management.

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