Tobacco tax initiative cleared to begin collecting signatures

January 05, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health 

Supporters of a plan to increase California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack will soon begin collecting the 585,407 signatures necessary to place the initiative on the 2016 election ballot. The California Attorney General finalized the initiative's title and summary on December 15, 2015, clearing the way for the measure’s advocates to collect the needed signatures. The signatures must be submitted by June 13, 2016, in order for the initiative to qualify for the 2016 ballot.

The initiative would not only raise California’s current tobacco tax of $0.87 per pack — which hasn’t been changed since 1998 and ranks 33rd among other states in the nation — but would also help reduce teen smoking, support research to cure tobacco-related diseases and improve a variety of the state’s health care programs.

The proposed tax and its associated impacts were discussed in detail by legislators attending a special session hearing on Dec. 17.

“I am very supportive of these efforts because we know that tobacco tax increases save lives, reduce health care costs and prevent our youth from getting hooked on this very addictive nicotine,” said Senator Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina).

During the two-hour informational hearing, a joint legislative committee heard testimony from a variety of physicians, state employees, and health and labor representatives who spoke about the detrimental toll of smoking on the state.

Jim Knox, vice president of government relations for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACSCAN), called tobacco use arguably “the most pernicious public health scourge” of the modern era.

“It has been estimated that tobacco killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century,” Knox said. “Today, tobacco kills nearly 6 million people a day worldwide, and is on track to kill a billion people this century.”

California alone has approximately 3.6 million adult smokers and about 200,000 youth smokers. Consequently, smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the state, killing more people than car accidents, murder, suicide, alcohol, illegal drugs and AIDS combined.

Donna White Carey, M.D., chief medical officer of the Roots Community Health Center in Oakland, told the committee that nicotine is referred to as a “gateway drug” for youth and can lead to several pregnancy complications, including stillbirths.

“As physicians, we want to do what we can to prevent disease. That is what we take our oath to do,” she said. “Too many young people are getting access to tobacco; an increase in the tobacco tax is one way that we can help reduce those numbers.”

Smoking-related diseases cost California roughly $13.29 billion annually in medical expenses and about $10.35 billion annually in lost productivity.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that the number of cigarettes smoked in the state would drop by about 7 to 15 percent as a result of the initiative.

“Tax and price are big factors in the decline of cigarette consumption,” said Mark Durham, research and statistics section manager for the Board of Equalization.

The initiative is sponsored by the Save Lives California coalition, which is composed of the California Medical Association, American Lung Association in California, SEIU California, American Heart Association, ACSCAN, California Dental Association, health care workers, patients, hospitals, nurses and taxpayers.

For more information, go to www.savelivescalifornia.com.


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