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Bill calling for higher tobacco tax blows through Senate Health Committee



April 30, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy Public Health 

Senate Bill 591, proposed tobacco tax legislation co-sponsored by the California Medical Association (CMA), sailed through the Senate Health Committee this week with a strong show of support from health organizations across the state.


The committee passed the bill 6-2. SB 591 now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee.


Under the proposal, the tax on tobacco products would be raised by $2 per pack in California to help save lives from deadly diseases and reduce the number of youth who smoke for the first time. The tax is currently at 87 cents per pack, ranking California as 33rd in the nation among other states.


Increasing the cost of tobacco products is widely recognized as the most effective way to reduce smoking, particularly in young people, said the bill’s author, Senator and CMA member Richard Pan, M.D. “The tobacco industry knows this, which is why they are trying to stop us despite the obvious benefits to society,” he said.


There are about 3.6 million adult smokers and more than 220,000 youth smokers in California, Dr. Pan told committee members. Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of death in California, claiming the lives of nearly 40,000 people every year, while smoking-related diseases cost the state roughly $13.29 billion in medical expenses each year.


Furthermore, California has not increased its tobacco tax since 1998.


“It’s our mission to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease,” said Kimberly Amazeen, who supported SB 591 at the hearing as a representative of the American Lung Association in California. “There’s no greater return on investment in California than by raising the tobacco tax.”


If implemented, SB 591 would generate $1.5 billion in revenue in its first year alone. Assembly Bill 1396, a companion bill to SB 591, allocates the tax funds to bolster statewide tobacco education and prevention programs, create better access to health care in Medi-Cal, and expand frontline law enforcement programs to reduce illegal tobacco sales to minors. AB 1396 was recently sent to the Assembly’s Suspense File to be heard at a later date.


For more information on these bills, visit www.savelivesca.com.

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