L.A. Times editorial — time to increase California’s cigarette tax

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Associated Press photo

The Los Angeles Times has come out in favour of Proposition 56, a November ballot initiative which would raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack.

This is the third time California has tried a ballot measure raising its cigarette tax (The State Legislature is too yellow to do it themselves.). A more modest $1 a pack proposal in 2012 lost by less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the vote (It lost by less than 25,000 votes out of 5 million ballots cast) after Big Tobacco spent more than $40 million to defeat it.

Most of the money from this tax increase is specifically earmarked for Medi-Cal.

So, every bit helps.

From the L.A. Times:

… tobacco taxes are really a brilliant and beautiful thing: They not only bring in revenue for government but also serve a social good in the process. On average, peer-reviewed studies have shown, a 10% increase in the total price of cigarettes will yield a 3% to 4% reduction in adult consumption — and a 7% reduction among young smokers.

While bringing down smoking rates, the tax also would bring in between $1 billion and $1.4 billion in its first full year — 2017-18 — after which, the revenue would decline slowly as the number of smokers shrinks. Some of the money would go to administration and enforcement of the tax itself; a sizable chunk would go to tobacco prevention and control programs; a portion would go toward research on cancer, heart and lung disease and other tobacco-related diseases. But the bulk of the funds would go to Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for low-income residents — specifically, to pay healthcare providers more to treat Medi-Cal patients.

Many people are surprised to hear this, but California actually has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country — just 87 cents a pack. The national average for state taxes is about $1.65 a pack, so California is barely half the national average.

This proposal would jump California from the 37th highest cigarette excise tax in the country to ninth.

Increasing cigarette taxes has been shown time and again to be one of the most effective ways to cut the smoking rate. It gives people extra incentive to quit and kids extra incentive to not start to begin with. I mean, if someone is smoking just a pack a day of cigarettes, with this cigarette tax, quitting would save you $2.87 a day. That’s about $1,000 a year. That’s just one pack a day.

It’s interesting that Big Tobacco would spend so much in California trying to beat it, because California already has one of the lowest smoking rates in the country. But, if the measure cut the smoking rate by just 5 percent … that’s 5 percent coming from the biggest state in the country. That’s maybe 200,000 to 250,000 smokers, multiply that by maybe $1,000 a year they would no longer be spending on cigarettes (and this is for perpetuity) … you start seeing why Big Tobacco cares.

The tobacco industry is already trying to spread lies that the initiative would somehow take money away from schools. From the L.A. Times editorial:

The battle to pass Proposition 56 will be tough, as always, because of the power of the tobacco lobby, which already is making deceptive claims like this one: “Prop 56 cheats schools out of at least $600 million per year.” That’s baloney. Proposition 56 wouldn’t take a penny from schools; it would merely exempt the new tobacco tax revenue from the requirements of Proposition 98, the 1988 measure which guarantees public schools a large share of the state’s core revenues. Many initiatives include such an exemption.

Don’t believe the cynical, disingenuous opponents of this measure. Proposition 56 will save lives. The Times urges a yes vote.

 

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