OAKLAND — Former state Senate President Pro Tem and 2010 Oakland mayoral candidate Don Perata joined cancer research and health advocates Monday to launch a ballot measure that would hike cigarette taxes by a dollar a pack.

"This is the right measure for the right time," Corey Goodman, a UC San Francisco professor and former biotech entrepreneur, said at a news conference in the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute, adding the half-billion dollars per year this measure could raise would help move scientific breakthroughs "from the bench to the bedside" to save lives.

Perata said he conceived of the measure while still in the state Senate, well before being treated for prostate cancer earlier this year. He called it "probably the most exhilarating and hopefully the most rewarding thing I will have done in my years in politics."

Money raised would go into a trust fund, with 60 cents of every dollar to fund research on causes, prevention and treatment of cancer and other smoking-related illnesses; 20 cents to fund smoking cessation and tobacco use prevention programs; 15 cents to fund research facilities and equipment; 3 cents to fund anti-tobacco and anti-smuggling enforcement; and no more than 2 cents per dollar for administrative costs.

Funding would be doled out by a nine-member oversight committee including three directors from California's National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers; three UC chancellors from the California Institute for Quantitative Biological Research; one practicing California physician with expertise in cardiovascular disease; and two disease advocacy group representatives. Perata estimated the tax will raise about $900 million per year at first, but that figure will decline as smoking wanes.

"Taking on 'Big Tobacco' is never going to be easy. "... They will probably empty the vaults trying to kill this," he predicted, but enough people's lives have been touched by cancer that there should be a groundswell of support for the measure.

Frank Lester, spokesman for tobacco manufacturer holding company Reynolds American, said adults choosing to smoke already pay high taxes and — as they're often among the working poor — shouldn't be penalized further, especially in a bad economy; he also said it's poor public policy to fund important programs such as medical research with a declining revenue source. A spokesman for Altria, the parent company for tobacco giant Phillip Morris USA, said much the same thing, and spokesmen for the California Taxpayers' Association and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association said they expect their groups will oppose it for the same reasons.

The Secretary of State's office expects the measure's title and summary will be ready by Dec. 17, and proponents will then have 150 days to gather at least 433,971 registered voters' signatures to put the measure on the November 2010 ballot. About a quarter will come from the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association volunteer and donor bases, Perata said Monday, and the rest will be gathered by paid petition circulation firms.

Perata said he won't serve on the "Californians for a Cure" campaign committee's seven-member steering board. "I'm going to raise money," he said, acknowledged his fundraising prowess in past political ventures. "It's kind of like 'The Godfather Part III' — as soon as you get out, you get pulled right back in."

Perata in May turned his "Leadership California" ballot measure committee into "Hope 2010" to support this measure, and in July gave it $13,500 from one of his old Senate campaign committees.

The only other major contribution so far is $10,000 last month from S.K. Seymour LLC, which controls Oaksterdam University and other cannabis-related businesses. Perata in September endorsed a marijuana-legalization ballot measure co-authored by S.K. Seymour partner Richard Lee. Perata said Monday he sees no conflict in supporting a cancer research and smoking prevention measure and a marijuana legalization measure at the same time; marijuana need not be smoked, he said.

Cigarette taxes, by the numbers
  • Current California cigarette tax: 87 cents per pack
  • California's cigarette tax rank among states: 32nd
  • All states' average cigarette tax: $1.34 per pack
  • Nation's highest combined state-local cigarette tax: $4.25 per pack in New York City
  • Last California cigarette tax hike: 50 cents per pack under 1998's Proposition 10, to fund early childhood education
  • Current federal cigarette tax: $1.01 per pack, up from $0.39 effective April 1
    Sources: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, First 5 California