January 22, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health
The signature-gathering phase of a campaign to increase California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack has now officially begun.
On January 21, the Save Lives California coalition held a press conference at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento to kick off the next big step in the initiative’s development—procuring more than half a million valid signatures to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot.
Philanthropist and campaign co-chair Tom Steyer; California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; Sacramento’s state Senator Richard Pan, M.D.; and representatives from several coalition members, including the California Medical Association (CMA), were among those in attendance.
“There’s no way to sugarcoat it: tobacco kills,” said Steyer, who has already donated $1 million to the coalition’s efforts. “This initiative aims to save lives and stop teens from ever picking up the deadly tobacco habit in the first place.”
The California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016 will increase the state’s tobacco tax from its current $0.87 per pack to $2.87 per pack. It will also place equivalent taxes on other products containing nicotine derived from tobacco, including e-cigarettes.
“We’re here today to encourage kids to never pick up the deadly habit,” Steyer said. “This is a very straightforward proposition.”
Only those who choose to use dangerous tobacco products will be affected by the tobacco tax, a proposal that will “help dissuade our youth from starting an insidious habit that kills 40,000 Californians a year,” Dr. Pan told reporters.
“Smoking still costs too many people their health, and actually too many dollars for our taxpayers as well,” said Dr. Pan, who is also a CMA member. “A $2-per-pack tax [increase] will discourage our young people and our fellow citizens from a habit that causes cancer, lung disease, heart disease and many other ailments.”
The tax would also apply to e-cigarettes, which currently threaten to undermine decades of progress in reducing teen addiction to nicotine.
Studies show that youths who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to smoke traditional cigarettes later in life than their peers who never try e-cigarettes at all. Additionally, more than a quarter of a million youth who had never smoked a cigarette before used e-cigarettes in 2013.
“Teen e-cigarette use tripled between 2013 and 2014,” Superintendent Torlakson said. “Candy-flavored products that contain nicotine derived from tobacco put teens at risk of developing a deadly, lifelong addiction to nicotine.”
“I’m pleased to join the Save Lives coalition to raise awareness among students and reduce the use of tobacco products across the state,” he added.
A roundtable discussion about the danger of e-cigarettes was held with McClatchy High School students prior to the press conference. There, the students talked about their friends’ experiences with the products—one student said a close friend’s hand was severely injured after an e-cigarette blew up during use—or gave suggestions on how they should be regulated.
“I was certainly educated about this issue,” said Jay Hansen, Sacramento City Unified School District Board of Education 1st vice president. “Big Tobacco is targeting these students with flavors like ‘cotton candy,’ and it’s important that we continue to educate them about the dangers around not only traditional tobacco products, but the e-cigarettes that we’re hearing more about today.”
Smoking costs California taxpayers billions of dollars each year, including the $3.5 billion Medi-Cal spends annually to treat smoking-related diseases. The $2-per-pack tobacco tax increase will not only reduce these long-term health care costs, but also reduce smoking rates across the state.
For more information on the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016, go to www.savelivescalifornia.com.