Generally speaking, Californians shun tobacco. Smoking has been banned in workplaces here since 1994. So few adults smoke that it is socially unacceptable. Because of new legislation, Californians must be 21 to legally buy a pack of smokes.
And yet tobacco industry lobbyists, reinforced by tobacco company contributions to Democratic and Republican politicians, are able to snuff any legislation to raise tobacco taxes. So once again, voters are being asked to do what legislators have failed to do: raise taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products, including increasingly popular nicotine-containing e-cigarettes, with the revenue earmarked for anti-tobacco efforts and health care.
For the good of public health, we urge a “yes” vote on Proposition 56.
Funded by anti-tobacco advocacy organizations, physicians, hospitals and health care worker unions, Proposition 56 would raise cigarette taxes by $2 per pack, to $2.87, and tax e-cigarettes that contain nicotine. The additional levy will generate $1 billion to $1.4 billion a year, on top of the $800 million raised by existing tobacco taxes, the Legislative Analyst’s Office says.
As it is, California’s 87 cent per pack tax ranks 37th lowest among the 50 states.
The bulk of the money, as much as $1 billion a year, would be earmarked for Medi-Cal, the state program that provides health care to 13 million poor people – who are more likely to be smokers. Taxpayers pay an estimated $3.5 billion annually to treat people suffering from cancer, heart disease, emphysema and the many other tobacco-related maladies.
A smaller but significant sum – $100 million to $130 million – would be used specifically to combat tobacco use. With another $100 million, on top of the $45 million now earmarked for anti-tobacco efforts, California’s tobacco control unit within the Department of Public Health ought to be able to drive smoking down even more. California’s 87-cents-per pack tax ranks 37th among 50 states, below Nevada’s $1.80, Arizona’s $2 and Oregon’s $1.32, and far less than New York’s $4.35-per-pack tax.
Use falls as costs rise. Researchers know that teen smoking falls by up to 7 percent for each 10 percent rise in the price of cigarettes – and the $2 per pack tax forces a big price hike beyond the average $6 per pack cost of cigarettes.
In 1988, one in four Californians smoked. That year voters approved Proposition 99, which raised tobacco taxes by 25 cents per pack, mainly to fund a unique state-run anti-tobacco campaign. It worked; only 12 percent of Californians smoke now.
Stanton Glantz, a UC San Francisco medical school professor, wrote that by 2009, smoking reductions had “saved Californian citizens, taxpayers and businesses $134 billion in health care costs.” They also cost tobacco companies $28.5 billion in lost sales.
It’s no wonder that since July 12, tobacco companies have raised $56 million to beat Proposition 56. Expect to be inundated with misleading anti-Proposition 56 ads, lamenting that only a fraction of the money will go to anti-smoking efforts – as if the industry wants more to be spent against smoking, chewing and vaping.
The Bee generally opposes ballot initiatives that use the ballot box to lock in budgetary decisions. But we also recognize the benefits of raising the cost of an addictive and deadly product to curb its use.