Monday, June 04, 2012

Two California Stem Cell Agency Directors Plump for Proposition 29

Two directors of the $3 billion California stem cell agency have popped up in the battle over the anti-tobacco initiative on tomorrow's ballot in the Golden State.

They are Sherry Lansing and Kristiina Vuori, who were the subjects of a column by Michael Hiltzik of the Los Angeles Times dealing with Proposition 29, the "Son of CIRM" measure that would raise $800 million for research by increasing the price of cigarettes by $1 a pack. In addition to serving on the CIRM board, Lansing heads her own anti-cancer foundation and is chair of the board of the UC regents. Vuori is head of the Sanford-Burnham Institute in La Jolla.

Proposition 29 is patterned after the measure that created the stem cell agency. The organization established by Proposition 29 would also be governed by a board that is run by representatives of organizations almost certain to receive the bulk of the funding, as is the case with CIRM.

In an op-ed piece on Friday, Lansing and Vuori said the Times and Hiltzik had fallen for "a smokescreen" put up by tobacco companies which are spending something in the neighborhood of $40 million to defeat the initiative. Lansing and Vuori said the measure is needed to stop smoking by young people as well as providing cash for research for tobacco-related diseases. Young people are more sensitive to price increases of cigarettes than adults, according to research.

Lansing and Vuori referred to a column in which Hiltzik opposed the measure because it would divert money from more immediate state needs, including health and welfare programs for children, education and the poor. (See here for thecolumn and here, here and here for related items.)

In his most recent column, Hiltzik said,
"The...problem with Proposition 29 is its pigeonholing of the money for cancer research rather than for immediate needs here in California that are absolutely dire. It’s all well and good to say that cancer research benefits everyone, but the real question is whether it should be the absolute top priority for a state that can’t afford to keep its children fed or offer them medical care in the here and now. 
"Lansing and Vuori say the fact that Prop. 29 'fails to provide funding for schools, roads or affordable housing' is irrelevant, because it was 'was never intended to solve these problems.'

"In the context of the state’s needs, this is a rather callous approach to take. Let’s spell out why, so Lansing and Vuori won’t be so inclined to dismiss these necessities of life so casually."
Hiltzik cited a list of state government cuts that have meant the loss of health coverage for 400,000 California children, eliminated welfare benefits for 578,000 poor California families and would mean an end to state college student aid for 72,000 young people from less affluent families.

Hiltzik continued,
"That’s just the beginning of what might be cut because the state needs money—and won’t be able to lay its hands on the hundreds of millions of dollars that Lansing, Vuori, and their research colleagues are angling for. They don’t want voters to be reminded that there are competing demands for the tobacco money, and they do so by failing to mention that they exist, and also by presenting the spending on cancer research as the voters’ only choice. 
"It’s the only choice because the promoters of Proposition 29 designed it that way. Advocates of programs like this love to pass them in via voter initiatives because they leave no room to measure them against alternative needs."
 A final note: The New York Times carried a piece yesterday on Proposition 29 that drew 481 comments. The article said, 
"Organizers argued that the tax would have less chance of passing if voters thought it would go into the state coffers, and said that their only goal here was cutting down on smoking."
 Also yesterday, Willie Brown, the former mayor of San Francisco and a keen observer of California politics, predicted voter approval of the measure along with an increase in cigarette smuggling from adjacent states and the sale of discount smokes at the 58 Indian casino sites in the state. 

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