Health

California’s Jihad On Tobacco Likely To Score Big Win With Punishing Tax Rise

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Guy Bentley Research Associate, Reason Foundation

California smokers got a nasty surprise Friday morning with a new poll showing overwhelming support for a punishing tax rise on cigarettes to shore up the state’s healthcare infrastructure.

Funded by California Wellness Foundation, the survey showed 67 percent of voters favored a $2 rise in the state tobacco tax, with only 30 percent opposing the move.

The poll will likely embolden State Sen. Richard Pan, who re-introduced a bill to raise the tobacco tax by $2 Wednesday. The tax would also cover e-cigarettes after the California legislature decided to classify them as tobacco products, despite containing no tobacco.

California currently levies a statewide tax of 87 cents on a packet of smokes in addition to the $1.01 federal tax. “Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and around the world and yet, we know how to win the fight against tobacco,” said Pan.

The legislature needs a two-thirds vote in both houses to pass the tax, otherwise health lobby groups say they will try and put it to a vote in 2016. Groups supporting the move include the SEIU California State Council, the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association and the American Cancer Society.

Supporters of the tax say it will raise $1.5 billion that will be spent on increasing the number of physicians in California. The tax, along with raising the smoking and vaping age to 21, is part of a raft of anti-tobacco measures the state has introduced to incentivize people to kick the habit. (RELATED: Berkeley, Calif. Wants To Make Getting E-Cigarettes As Difficult As Buying Booze)

If the tax goes to a ballot, however, it could be defeated because voters have rejected fresh tax increases on cigarettes twice in the last nine years.

But taxpayers’ campaign groups are adamantly opposed to the measure. Speaking to the L.A. Times, President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association Jon Coupal said “at a time when state revenue has recovered and the governor says there is even a surplus, there is no reason for a tax increase.”

If the tax goes ahead it would the first tobacco tax increase in the state since 1998. California is increasingly leading the country in so-called “sin taxes” with local governments seeing them as an easy way to raise money and tackle unhealthy lifestyles. (RELATED: Berkeley’s Soda Tax Fail)

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