Gregoire backs tax to fund cancer research

Adding a dollar to a pack of cigarettes would restore some lost federal funds, the initiative’s supporters say

Staff writerApril 20, 2014 

Advocates for cancer research, including former Gov. Chris Gregoire, are considering asking Washington voters for more money this fall.

A proposed initiative to the people filed April 10 would pay for grants for cancer research, prevention and treatment by raising tobacco taxes.

The former governor said Friday that she is among its supporters but that the group has not yet decided whether to go forward and is not wedded to any particular new funding source.

Gregoire, a Democrat and breast cancer survivor, said federal budget cuts have eaten into research grants.

“We have some of the world’s leading experts in our own backyard and we need to keep them and keep the research going here,” she said.

Grants flowing to the state from the National Institutes of Health declined by more than $80 million last year, or about 9 percent.

Gregoire, a Lacey resident since leaving the governor’s mansion in January 2013, got involved in the effort as a member of the board of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. The center is a member of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance that also includes the Seattle Children’s and University of Washington hospitals.

If the group decides to move forward this year, collects 246,372 valid voter signatures by July 3 and persuades voters to approve it Nov. 4, the initiative would raise taxes on a pack of 20 cigarettes by $1.

Taxes would also go up on other tobacco products. The state would borrow money against the new revenue.

Organizers hope it would raise more than $90 million a year over a decade.

Washington has one of the highest cigarette tax rates — sixth in the nation, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

The state receives money from a 1998 settlement with tobacco companies negotiated by Gregoire when she was attorney general. Some of it is spent on scientific research. A large portion of the money once went to prevention programs that supporters credit with contributing to a decline in smoking, until state budget cuts whittled that funding to a fraction of its former size.

Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826
jordan.schrader@thenewstribune.com

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