Another attempt being made to raise cigarette taxes in California

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You might not believe this, but cigarette taxes in California are among the lowest in the entire U.S.

California’s cigarette tax is only 87 cents a pack, which is barely half of the average $1.50 a pack state tax in the U.S.  California has the 35th-highest state tobacco tax rate in the nation. A number of states have cigarettes taxes well over $2 a pack. California has a reputation for having high taxes, so what’s behind this?

What’s behind this is California also represents all by its lonesome, nearly 10 percent of the cigarette market in the entire U.S. So, anytime there is a proposal to raise cigarette taxes in the state, Big Tobacco fights it to the bloody death. The California State Assembly refuses to raise cigarette taxes, so a ballot measure was proposed to raise taxes in 2012 by a pretty reasonable $1 a pack. The measure failed, barely (50.2 percent against, 49.8 percent in favour). A bit weird, since California has one of the lowest smoking rates in the nation (less than 15 percent).

I was a bit shocked when the measure failed, since cigarette tax increases have passed by voter imitative in other, less-liberal states than California (including in Libertarian Montana, where voters approved a $1 a pack increase many years ago.) However, the measure was put on the ballot in a primary election, where turnout is not that good. And Big Tobacco spent millions to defeat it. According to this article, Big Tobacco spent $38.7 million to defeat the measure in 2012. Wow, that’s a lot of money … but keep in mind,  California with its 38 million people is nearly 10 percent of the tobacco market in all of the U.S. And studies have shown that higher cigarette taxes help drive down the smoking rate.

So, now tobacco control proponents are back with a proposal for a $2 a pack tax increase. They’re gathering signatures and this time, they aren’t screwing around with a primary election date, they’re shooting for a general election date, when turnout is much higher. (Interestingly, there will also likely be a measure on the November 2016 ballot to legalize pot, which seriously should bring out a lot of younger voters … younger voters who don’t smoke cigarettes.)

This proposal would give California the ninth-highest cigarette tax in the nation. However, it will be on the November 2016 ballot, not a primary or special election ballot, so turnout is expected to be much heavier, which bodes well for passage. This article claims a poll shows 2-to-1 supprt for raising cigarette taxes.

Billionaire Tom Steyer is co-chair of the proposal. He says his mother smoked three packs a day and died of lung cancer.  Also backing the measure are  Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the California Medical Association.

The proposal would also add taxes to e-cigarette products. The proposal needs to gather more than 500,000 signatures to place it on the November 2016 ballot.