In February 2016, SB 591, the California Tobacco Tax Act of 2015, died on file pursuant to Joint Rule 56 of the California Legislature. The legislation was designed to offset health problems caused by smoking. The reason, according to Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D–San Diego, was time. The legislature ran out of it. This article examines California’s current tobacco taxes and what the failure of the act means for the state.
The costs of lighting up in California
The average price of a pack of cigarettes in California is $5.89. According to the California State Board of Equalization, the last cigarette tax adjustment occurred July 2015. The Board set the per cigarette tax at $0.0434 or $0.87 per pack of 20. New York has the highest price per pack at $12.84, while Missouri and Virginia charge the lowest ($5.25).
California’s Cancer Registry notes there were 8,400 new cases of lung cancer in 2014, adding to the 18,000 existing cases. There were over 6,000 lung cancer deaths. Lung cancer kills more Californians annually than prostate, breast, colon and rectum cancers combined. California costs due to bronchus and lung cancer are scant, but, according to the National Institutes of Health, U.S. costs related to lung cancer were in excess of $12 billion in 2010.
In 2014, California’s population was about 38 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2014, nearly 13 percent of the state’s adult population smoked every day.
According to SaveLivesCalifornia, had SB 591 passed (increasing the tax per pack from $0.87 to $2.87), it would have generated $1.5 billion in the first year. This money would have been used to offset the $13 billion annually in tobacco-related health costs. Funds from SB 591 would have gone to broadening the capacity and scope of the California Tobacco Control Program. Begun 25 years ago, the program works to prevent smoking and the use of other tobacco products through education. SB 591 would have funded cancer, heart disease and lung disease research at the University of California’s Tobacco Related Disease Research Program. As mind-boggling as it may seem, over 8 percent of pregnant women still smoke during pregnancy. Money from SB 591 would be used to penetrate this cerebral fog.
Tobacco money in politics
Contrary to what Assembly Speaker Atkins says was poor time management, the San Jose Mercury News writer Jessica Calefati argues that the tobacco industry’s money is what killed the bill. According to her 2015 article, lawmakers who sit on the state’s key Assembly Governmental Organizational Committee have accepted over $170,000 in campaign contributions from tobacco companies since 2013. As proof of the tobacco industry’s clout, she points to SB 140. This bill would have defined e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The bill went through two voting cycles. It was approved on the second voting round in part because this definition was deleted from the text. Of the 13 Democrats and Republicans who received money from tobacco companies, all but one voted in favor of the bill during the second round.
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About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer for Sovereign Health Group. He worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.