Backers of an initiative to increase the cigarette  tax by $1 per pack and raise taxes on other tobacco products to expand  financial aid for California residents enrolled at public universities received  permission today from Secretary of State Debra Bowen to begin gathering  signatures.

      What backers have dubbed as The California Residents College  Accessibility and Affordability Act of 2014 would annually generate $800 million from the cigarette tax increase and $45 million from the tax increase on other tobacco products, according to an estimate prepared by the Legislative Analyst's Office and Director of Finance Ana J. Matosantos.

      Of the additional cigarette tax revenue, $730 million would be spent on  financial aid for resident students at University of California and California  State University campuses and $70 million to backfill losses to existing  tobacco programs.

      The additional revenue from the increased taxes on other tobacco  products would be used for other existing programs, including preventing  smoking.

      Valid signatures from 504,760 registered voters -- 5 percent of the  total votes cast for governor in the 2010 general election -- must be submitted  by July 22 to qualify the measure for the November 2014 ballot.

      Californians should support the initiative statute because "there's no  reason the dream of college education should be out of reach for any hard  working student in California," Jason Kinney, a communications strategist for  the public affairs company California Strategies, told KXTV-TV Channel 10, the  Sacramento ABC affiliate.

      Sen. Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, the Senate Republican leader, told City  News Service "we shouldn't be asking how to locate a source of sufficient  financial aid for students. Voters were promised this source of funding when  they voted for Proposition 30," the income and sales tax increase approved by  voters in November.

      Huff said "voters have already rejected the past two proposed cigarette  tax hikes because they know taxing a declining source of revenue isn't the  smartest of options," referring to Proposition 29 on the June ballot to fund  cancer research and Proposition 86 on the November 2006 ballot to finance  hospital care for children and anti-smoking campaigns.