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Lawmakers Push for $2 Increase in California Cigarette Tax

California lawmakers and health organizations are pushing legislation that would increase the state tax on cigarettes by $2 per pack.

Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) introduced SB 591 last week, arguing that an increase in cigarette taxes would incentivize more smokers to quit, while collecting more than $1 billion for state research into smoking-related diseases and health services for Medi-Cal patients.

Seven previous efforts to raise cigarette taxes have failed in the state since 2002, according to the Los Angeles Times. However, this time, Pan and a coalition of health groups including the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association in California, Health Access California, and the California Hospital Association, among others, are threatening to collect signatures to place the proposed tax increase on the 2016 ballot if the measure fails in the Legislature.

“California’s tobacco tax rate is currently among the lowest in the nation with 32 other states having a higher tax rate,” Sen. Pan said in a statement announcing the bill. “SB 591 would put California’s tobacco tax rate at 8th in the nation and will restore California’s highly effective smoking prevention and research programs.”

The current state tax on a pack of cigarettes is 87 cents. Federal taxes add an extra $1.01. A new increase would force smokers to pay almost $4 in taxes per pack.

According to a study conducted by UC San Francisco’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, smoking has cost California $18.1 billion in direct and indirect costs, including healthcare costs and the economic cost of lost productivity due to illness and death. The study concluded that since 2009, the state has suffered $6.7 billion in lost productivity and 587,000 years of life lost in 34,363 deaths (17.1 years per death.)

“We also see clearly from this report that tobacco — despite declines in its prevalence — remains a major threat to public health and a drain on healthcare resources,” UCLA physician and chair of the California Tobacco Education and Research Oversight Committee said in a statement.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, New York has the highest excise tax on cigarettes in the country, at $4.35 per pack. Chicago, Illinois has the highest combined state, local and federal taxes on cigarettes in the country, at $6.16 per pack. Virginia has the lowest state excise tax, at just $0.30 per pack.

The California Legislature will need a two-thirds majority vote before SB 591 can be placed on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

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