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$2 per pack tobacco tax on fast track in California Legislature

May 08, 2013|By Patrick McGreevy
  • California lawmakers are considering a new $2 per pack tax on cigarettes to pay for healthcare costs.
California lawmakers are considering a new $2 per pack tax on cigarettes… (Paul Sakuma / Associated…)

This post has been updated. See below for details.

A proposal to raise the tobacco tax by $2 per pack of cigarettes cleared its first two policy committees Wednesday, with Republicans unified in their opposition.

Sen. Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) proposed the tax, which would move California's tobacco taxes from 33rd-highest in the nation to fourth. The $1.5 billion raised each year would help pay for medical care for tobacco-related diseases, anti-tobacco education and enforcement of tobacco-related laws.

DeLeon said the state currently spends $3.1 billion on medical costs involving tobacco-related diseases and health impacts.

“Our goal is to ensure that taxpayers don’t foot the bill related to any industry,” De Leon said.

The state currently charges 87 cents in taxes on each pack of 20 cigarettes, with money going to healthcare programs, including an anti-smoking campaign.

Supporters also hope the higher tax will discourage some people from smoking.

The vote of the Senate Governance and Finance Committee was 4-2, with Republicans including Sen. Stephen Knight of Palmdale opposed.

“Why wouldn’t we just obliterate smoking by raising it [the tax] $25?” Knight asked sarcastically. “Is it our job to tax people into a good decision?” SB 768 goes to the Senate Health Committee this afternoon so it can meet a looming deadline for committee action on bills.

[Updated at 2:30 p.m. May 8: Later in the day, the bill was approved on a 6-2 vote of the Senate Health Committee.

[Bill Dombrowski, president of the California Retailers Assn., opposed the measure, telling the health panel that the tax will cost jobs, promote black-market activity and hit the wallets of some people more than others.

[“Raising taxes will unfairly burden low-income earners,” he told the Health Committee.

[De Leon said the same goes for health.  “What is truly regressive is the disproportionate impact smoking has on low-income and minority communities.”

[Some supporters said the money can help with the expansion of MediCal, although De Leon said the bill does not yet address that issue.]

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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