Category Archives: Cigarette taxes

Another attempt being made to raise cigarette taxes in California

golden gate bridge

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.


Analysis: The sickest states in the U.S., mostly in the South, do the least to snuff out smoking

southern tobacco

I already knew this, but I’m glad to see USA Today do a story on it.

It’s a fact that the highest rates of lung cancer are in the Deep South — where there are few indoor smoking bans and cigarette taxes are ridiculously low.

From the USA Today article:

States hit hardest by the ravages of tobacco are often the least aggressive at hitting back, a USA TODAY analysis found. So a deadly culture of smoking lingers, which officials say is fueled relentlessly by tobacco companies targeting minorities and the poor.

• Big tobacco-growing states such as Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia have the poorest and sickest residents, yet spend less than 20% of the federal government’s recommended minimum for tobacco education and enforcement.

• States with the most smokers weaken their own tobacco control efforts with cigarette taxes of 60 cents or less, compared with $3.75 in Rhode Island and $4.35 in New York.

• Hard-hit states also do the least to restrict smoking in places such as restaurants and workplaces and impose penalties of $100 or less on businesses selling tobacco to children, compared with $10,000 in the most aggressive states.

I like to show this phenomena graphically. Here is a map of the states with the highest rates of lung cancer. Darker is bad:









Now, here is a map of the states with the lowest cigarette taxes. Red means low taxes:









Now, here is a map with showing indoor smoking bans. White means total smoking bans, black means no statewide smoking bans (yellow means weak smoking bans).800px-US_states_smoking_bans.svg

Wow, it’s absolutely amazing the correlation, isn’t it? Actually, it really is, I’m not trying to be snarky.

Like I said, I’ve been aware of this correlation for some time, Now throw in the other factor of states in the Deep South spending little on tobacco education. Again, I’ve been aware of this for some time, the USA Today article speaks about how little states spend from the $280 billion Master Settlement Agreement on tobacco education, using that money instead to balance their state budgets (In USA Today’s word — “fix potholes.”).

Also, not a coincidence. Where is most of the tobacco in the U.S. grown? In the Deep South.

From USA Today:

Critics say one reason some states aren’t very aggressive is that tobacco is woven tightly into their communities even as the number of tobacco farms continues to shrink. “You can look at a map of tobacco control policies and see that every state that has weaker policies is a tobacco-growing state,” says Yvonne Hunt, who heads the tobacco control research branch of the National Cancer Institute.

Sitting in a cancer education booth at a free health clinic in southwest Virginia this summer, pharmacy student Anesa Hughes tried to explain why smoking is so common in her area. It’s “such a cultural thing,” says Hughes, who walked behind a tiller on her family’s tobacco farm starting at age 8. “It’s like we’re in a time warp.”

It’s a self-destructive culture. A mentality that “tobacco has always been a part of our culture.” Well, so has racism … does that somehow make it a good thing? These states have the highest smoking rates — Kentucky and West Virginia have been the highest for a while now, and places like Alabama and Mississippi aren’t far behind. People literally killing themselves and stubbornly clinging to the idea that somehow the right to kill themselves correlates to “Liberty,” or something… because their cigarette taxes are low and they can light up pretty much anywhere they want, especially outside the big cities. It’s a frustrating, exasperating reality. “Maybe I’m killing myself, but ain’t no Obama telling me what to do…” or some such thing.

As an aside, most of these Southern states also lead the U.S. in rates of diabetes. Part of that is smoking, it’s now known that smoking is a factor in causing diabetes, part of it is poor diet, obesity, lack of health care, high rates of poverty, etc. The sickest part of the country … which does little or nothing about it. And the people there keep voting for the people who do little or nothing about it.





California Legislature finally considering raising cigarette taxes $2 a pack



I know this will surprise a lot of people, but California actually has one of the lowest state cigarette taxes in the U.S. Californians only pay 87 cents a pack on cigarettes, while the average state cigarette tax in the country is $1.60.

California legislators a couple of years ago chickened out and punted the issue of raising cigarette taxes to the voters and after Big Tobacco poured millions upon millions into fighting the ballot measure, The measure, Proposition 9, failed by a vote of 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent in 2012. That measure would have raised state cigarette taxes from 87 cents a pack to a still-very-reasonable $1.87 a pack.

Now, the California Assembly is considering raising the tax to $2.87 a pack. Be careful what you wish for, Big Tobacco and stupid Libertarians.

The tax proposal is part of a special session being considered by Gov. Jerry Brown to raise funds for crumbling infrastructure and health care needs in California. A proposed raise in the state gas tax would go toward fixing roads and bridges in the state and a proposed cigarette tax increase (up to $2 a pack) is being considered to help with Medicaid and other health care costs

According to the San Jose Mercury News, cigarettes contribute $18 billion a year to health care costs in California. This information comes from UC-San Francisco, where my hero Stanton Glantz, a pioneering tobacco control scientist, is a professor.

It still blows my mind that California has one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the entire country — only a handful of states, mostly in the Deep South, are lower. In a few weeks, California in one fell swoop could become one of the most expensive states in the country to buy cigarettes.



Kansas raises cigarette taxes — for the wrong reasons

“Toto, we need to get the hell out of Kansas. This state is bolloxed.”

Many states have raised cigarette taxes for the right reasons — because studies have shown that higher cigarette taxes result in a lower smoking rate.

Kansas is a total train wreck politically and financially. It’s been the source of a conservative experiment from Gov. Sam Brownback and a conservative state Legislature  — that if taxes on corporations and the wealthy are drastically  cut, then it will spur growth. Well, even though Reagan’s Trickle Down Economics was proven 25 years ago to have been a disaster, these guys in Kansas had to learn the hard way that this doesn’t help the state’s economy.

Instead, Kansas is desperately broke and is probably in the worst shape financially of any state in the country, taking a $800 million surplus two or three years ago and turning it into a $400 million deficit. Why? Gosh … NO REVENUES! So, they’re responding by cutting, cutting, cutting. Cutting school days, cutting services, etc.

sam brownback
Sam Brownback

But, you can only cut so much. Kansas Republicans finally bit the bullet and passed a couple of tax increases to address that $400 million deficit. But, instead of raising income taxes on the wealthy (who can most easily absorb a tax increase), they went after the poor with a pair of regressive taxes — a sales tax increase and an increase in the cigarette tax.

Look, I’m all for raising cigarette taxes to a reasonable amount, and Kansas’ cigarette tax was fairly low. The Legislature approved a bill raising the state cigarette tax from a pretty low 79 cents a pack to $1.29 a pack. (In my opinion, a good state tax for cigarettes is $1.50 to $2 a pack … more than that you start chasing people to Indian Reservations or the black market to buy their cigs).

So, I want to say “good job Kansas”, but I can’t. The state did the right thing … but for the wrong reason. A cigarette tax to cut smoking rates — great. A cigarette tax on the backs of the poor to try and balance a budget screwed up by your fiscal mismanagement — bad.

Look, I get one thing wrong with cigarette taxes is that they are a regressive tax. They are. The poor have a much higher smoking rate than the wealthy, so when you raise cigarette taxes, the bulk of that increase is paid by the people least able to afford it. However, my agenda is it also gives people the incentive to quit and discourages teens from buying cigarettes to begin with … and a number of  studies bear this out.

Anyway, it just shows how screwed up the policies are in Kansas, attempting to balance the state budget on the backs of the poor, leaving the radical tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in place and then cutting services and programs mostly used by the poor. It’s a messed-up state.

Nevada increases cigarette tax by $1 a pack

nevada smoking

Nevada isn’t a state where I would have expected this, but the state Legislature of the Silver State just passed a $1 a pack increase in its cigarette tax.

The bill, which as near as I can tell has yet to be signed by the governor, would increase Nevada’s cigarette tax from 80 cents a pack to a more reasonable $1.80 (According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the tax was Governor Brian Sandoval’s idea to begin with, so he is expected to sign it into law.) . 80 cents a pack is pretty low. The average state cigarette tax in the U.S. is around $1.50 a pack and state cigarette taxes range from a ridiculous 17 cents a pack in Missouri to a kinda ridiculous $4.35 a pack in New York.

cigarette taxes

$1.80 a pack is a good spot for a cigarette tax. Studies have shown that cigarette taxes do provide an incentive for smokers to quit and helps to discourage kids from smoking; in fact, a recent study released a few weeks ago bolsters this argument. According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “Studies show that every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth smoking by about 6.5 percent and overall cigarette consumption by about 4 percent.”

However, I think if you make the tax too high, like New York’s, I think you start encouraging a lot of people to buy black market cigarettes or to go to the trouble of driving out to an Indian reservation to buy their cigs. New York not coincidentally has a huge issue with black market cigarettes and cigarette smuggling, especially when nearby Virginia has a cigarette tax of only 30 cents a pack. Honestly, I could see smokers making a trip from New York to Virginia two or three times a year to stock up on cigarettes. You buy 10 cartons in Virginia, you save $700 over about three months (if you’re smoking roughly one pack a day) … and it’s only a 220-mile drive.

Anyway, I digress … I like doing math. The real solution to those problems is for states to have more uniform cigarette taxes, which I don’t see happening. Mostly of the really low cigaratte taxes are in the Deep South, which again not coincidentally have some the highest smoking rates in the country. Surprisingly, one of the lowest states in the country is California at 87 cents a pack. California has tried to raise its cigarette tax through voter initiatives, but those initiatives have failed. The California Assembly just needs to suck it up and pass a bill and quit screwing around with passing the buck to voter initiatives.



Obama proposes raising federal cigarette tax 94 cents a pack


In Obama’s proposed 2016 budget, one thing quietly included is a raise in the federal cigarette tax.

In 2009, the feds raised the cigarette tax from $0.39 a pack to $1.01 a pack. Obama is proposing in his 2016 budget raising that tax again to $1.95 a pack.  The money would go toward CHIP and preschool programs and would raise $95 billion a year annually.

(For someone that smokes a pack a day, this would raise the cost of their habit by $343 a year or $28.60 a month.)

It’s actually kind of difficult to find news about this, one of the places I found it was on a website for convenience store owners, who are understandably interested in the proposal.

I’m all for it. I think you can overtax cigarettes to the point at which you’re encouraging smokers to drive out to the nearest Indian Reservation or buy bootleg cigarettes, but 94 cents a pack, seven years after the last raise (from a ridiculously low 39 cents a pack), does not strike me as being onerous.

Of course, there’s no telling if this proposal is dead-on-arrival with a Republican Congress. Republicans not only tend to be anti-tax, they tend to be recipients of a lot of Big Tobacco campaign dollars.


Minnesota smoking rate drops to lowest-ever-recorded 14.4 percent — higher cigarette taxes get credit


According to a survey of 9,000 people from Clear Way Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Health, the statewide smoking rate has dropped to 14.4 percent, the lowest ever recorded and down from 16.1 percent in 2010. That number is also down a whopping 35 percent from the 1999 smoking rate of 22.1 percent.

When asked what factor played an important role in helping people quit, the No. 1 reason was the increased cost of cigarettes. Minnesota’s state cigarette tax was raised $1.60 in 2013 and is one of the highest in the country at $2.83 a pack (only New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Washington are higher). 63 percent of the survey respondents said the new price of cigarettes helped encourage them to quit smoking.

The survey also found that teens and young adults (18-24), the age group with the highest smoking rate normally, no longer as the highest smoking rate in Minnesota (likely because of e-cigs).

Interesting info in the survey about e-cigarettes. The survey found that 66 percent of people reporting using e-cigs were also smoking cigarettes (telling me they were using e-cigs to get around smoking bans in workplaces, bars, etc.). 22.5 percent were former smokers while 11 percent were people (ie, kids) who had never smoked a cigarette. So, at least according to this one survey, fewer than one-fourth of the people using e-cigs used them as a smoking cessation tool, while over 10 percent were likely kids who had never smoked a cigarette in their lives. To me, that does not bolster the case for e-cigs well.

Rand Paul, other right-wingers: Cigarette taxes caused Eric Garner’s death …. Oh my freaking God …

rand paul


This makes my head hurt. It really does.

Republican Libertarian weasel Rand Paul was one of several Republicans jumping on this bullshit bandwagon that somehow cigarette taxes caused Eric Garner’s death. Wow, just motherloving wow….

Eric Garner is the black guy killed by a New York City policeman in a chokehold several months ago. The lack of indictment by a grand jury, despite some fairly glaring video evidence, is sparking protests around the country.

Rand Paul sometimes acts like he’s actually a sane, relatively moderate Republican, but every once in a while, keeps betraying his right-wing nuttiness (Remember when he literally ran away from a couple of immigrants who wanted to talk to him? I mean he burned rubber!)

eric garner
Eric Garner

Now, where do Paul and other Libertarian idiots get the idea that cigarette taxes killed Eric Garner — not a cop who was violating his own department’s policy that forbids chokeholds? Because Garner was accosted by police to begin with for selling black market untaxed cigarettes on the street.

Yup. It wasn’t an out-of-control cop violating his department’s policies … it was nanny state cigarette taxes.

Rand Paul said:

“I do blame the politician,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, explained on MSNBC’s “Hardball.” “We put our police in a dangerous situation with bad laws.”

“I think it’s also important to know that some politician put a tax of $5.85 on a pack of cigarettes,” Paul said. “So they’ve driven cigarettes underground so as not to make them so expensive.”

Jon Stewart savaged Paul’s insane logic on the Daily Show (I couldn’t have said this better, actually.)

But Stewart compared Paul’s reasoning to saying that government parking regulations caused the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.

“Honestly, Eric Garner could have been out there with mixtapes or squeegees or a snocone, and the same kind of shit could have happened” Stewart argued. “For the second time in 10 days, a grand jury — which at least in federal cases has a 99 percent indictment rate — failed to indict an officer who caused the death of an unarmed citizen.”

Right-wing weasels Ann Coulter and Dana Loesch also chimed in on Twitter:

Ann Coulter @AnnCoulter

Eric Holder: How about a blue ribbon commission on why the govt has to get every last penny in taxes from the sale of cigarettes.

Dana Loesch         @DLoesch

If Bloomberg’s stringent cig excise tax law wasn’t a contributing factor in Garner’s death then why, pray tell, were police there?

Dana Loesch         @DLoesch

Understanding cause and effect, like passing a law that requires more stringent enforcement of a dumb law, is awesome re #Garner.

Dana Loesch likes to show off her guns. Wow, you own lotsa guns. Whatever.

Jesus, trying to turn a tragedy involving police brutality into a debate about cigarette taxes?

I try to keep the Lounge non-partisan, but sometimes the right-wing mindset just blows my mind. I feel like these people are beyond reason. They dumped reason by the side of the road hundreds of miles ago and long ago drove off into lala lands.

Stewart hit the nail on the head, doesn’t matter what Garner was doing, he could have been selling bootleg CDs, dope, whatever, police had no right to KILL him. He was unarmed and was begging them to stop choking him, gasping, “I can’t breathe…” and again for the umpteenth time chokeholds are AGAINST NEW YORK CITY POLICE POLICY.

OK, all that being said … and I hate to even go here after this right-wing lunacy, there actually IS a problem with cigarette taxes creating a black market cigarette trade. The problem isn’t that taxes are too high necessarily, it’s that every state has it’s own taxing rate. Some states like North Carolina, are extremely low, while other states, such as New York, are extremely high. So the uneven tax rates create a demand for people to bring truckloads of cigarettes from South Carolina to New York and sell them on the street for $2 or $3 a pack less than cigarettes from New York City stores.

Yes, a black market problem exists. The solution to that problem is a uniform cigarette tax across the country. In any case, none of this has anything to do with Eric Garner’s death. It’s just political jerks trying to change the narrative and make it about liberals, Michael Bloomberg, Barack Obama, whatever. I really thought I had seen everything from the right-wing … but this is right up there as the most despicable attempt I’ve seen to try to derail the real issue — that black lives are seen as cheap and disposable by too many cops in America.