Fresno County adults like to smoke, but a new cigarette tax that will take effect next year could make lighting up less attractive to some.
More than 22 percent of county residents smoke compared to 12 percent statewide, according to 2014 statistics, the latest available.
But a $2-a-pack tobacco tax approved by California voters on Nov. 8 will make the cheapest, generic pack of cigarettes cost as much as a fast-food burger meal. Proposition 56 will take effect April 1.
Off-brand cigarettes are likely to cost nearly $6 a pack and brand-name smokes could be $8.
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Clovis smoker Brandon Spain, 22, rolls his own cigarettes. The recording engineer and vocalist has been smoking for about four years. The tax increase will definitely decrease the number of cigarettes he smokes in a day, he said. “And it’s a stronger incentive to quit.”
And it’s a stronger incentive to quit.
Brandon Spain, Clovis smoker
A number of smoking cessation programs are available to smokers in Fresno County, and they should be busy. Health experts say the tax should cause quite a few smokers to give up the habit.
Research shows that for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, consumption is reduced by approximately 3 to 5 percentage points, said Leila Gholamrezaei-Eha, project director and health educator in the Office of Policy, Planning, and Communication at the Fresno County Department of Public Health.
In Fresno County, 22 percent of adults smoke, so “based on the data that we have, we can go down to 17 percent,” Gholamrezaei-Eha said.
Proposition 56, which voters approved by more than 63 percent, also applies to other tobacco products and electronic cigarettes or vapes, but it’s not known how the tax will affect vaping rates. In 2014, nearly 14 percent of teens under the age of 18 in Fresno County and 10 percent statewide had smoked using an electronic device, Gholamrezaei-Eha said.
$217 millionDirect healthcare costs of smoking in Fresno County, 2009
Tobacco use is an economic burden. A 2014 study by the University of California at San Francisco said the cost of smoking in California in 2009 amounted to $18.1 billion. In Fresno County, smoking cost nearly $217 million in direct healthcare costs, or $235 per resident.
The $2-a-pack cigarette tax is estimated to generate $1 billion to $1.4 billion in revenue to the state. The money would be used primarily to augment health care for low-income California residents.
Spain approves of the tax money going for health purposes. He knows smoking is an unhealthy habit, but he’ll be stocking up on loose-leaf tobacco before the tax goes into effect April 1. “I’m getting a tub,” he said.