California Today: $2 More for a Pack of Cigarettes?
The New York Times Mike McPhate SEPT. 30, 2016
Cigarette brands at a shop in San Francisco. Voters will decide in November whether to raise tobacco taxes statewide. Credit Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Raise taxes. Lower the number of smokers.
That’s the idea at the heart of a November ballot initiative that supporters say could save thousands of lives from tobacco-related health issues.
A “yes” vote on Proposition 56 would add $2 to the existing tax on a pack of cigarettes, bringing it to a total state tax of $2.87 per pack.
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It would be the first tax increase on cigarettes in California since 1998.
“This is a long overdue hike,” said Tom Steyer, a philanthropist and leader of the Yes on 56 campaign. “And if you don’t smoke, you don’t pay.”
Raising cigarette prices has proved to reduce smoking, public health experts say.
California’s taxation of cigarettes has lagged behind most states. In Texas, the tax has been $1.41 a pack since 2007. New York charges $4.35, the highest amount in the country.
Critics have portrayed such taxes as another example of state overreach and say such efforts unfairly target low-income smokers.
But the central argument against the California measure has focused more on where the additional money will go.
“It’s really a tax hike grab by insurance companies, hospital corporations and other wealthy special interests,” said Beth Miller, a spokeswoman for the “No on 56 campaign.
Supporters say the goal is to cut smoking, but the measure would also help to shore up health care funding.
According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the tax increase would generate more than $1 billion, most of it allocated to Medi-Cal, the coverage plan for low-income Californians.
Multiple attempts to raise California’s cigarette tax at the ballot box and in the Legislature have failed over the years. As with past efforts, Proposition 56 supporters are bracing for a media blitz — bankrolled by more than 55 million from R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.
Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C. San Francisco whose research focuses on tobacco, said Proposition 56, crucially, sets aside funds for the state’s anti-tobacco programs.
California already has the nation’s second-lowest per capita smoking rate, with only about 10 percent continuing to light up.
If the initiative passes, Professor Glantz said, “I think that we will end up with smoking that is so low that the behavior will simply collapse.”
It may be a "a tax hike grab by insurance companies, hospital corporations and other wealthy special interests," but if it makes people quit smoking, I'm for it.