CDC: California one of only three states not to raise cigarette taxes since 2000

(March 29, 2012)

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a new study, notes that California is one of only three U.S. states not to have raised cigarette excise taxes since 2000. Missouri and North Dakota are the others.

For those who think Californians are taxed quite enough, that’s good news. But others think an opportunity to further discourage smoking and improve health is being missed, and they’re working to do something about it with Proposition 29, the Tobacco Tax for Cancer Research Act, on the ballot in the June 5 primary election.

The ballot measure, if approved by voters, would increase California’s 87-cent cigarette tax by a dollar, generating about $850 million a year in new tax revenues. The money, according to the state Attorney General’s official summary, would “be deposited into a special fund to finance research and research facilities focused on detecting, preventing, treating, and curing cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other tobacco-related diseases, and to finance prevention programs.” It would also create a nine-member committee charged with administering the fund.

“Increasing the price of cigarettes reduces the demand for cigarettes, thereby reducing youth smoking initiation and cigarette consumption and decreasing the prevalence of cigarette use in the United States overall, particularly among youths and young adults,” the CDC notes in its new study.

The mean state cigarette excise tax in the U.S. increased from $1.34 in 2009 to $1.46 in 2011, the study notes.

“This report is a wake up call for all Californians,” said Dr. David Tom Cooke, assistant professor of lung surgery and volunteer state board member with the American Lung Association in California in a release. “In June, we have a chance to tell Big Tobacco that enough is enough. They’ve had their way in our state for far too long. This new tobacco tax, paid only by those who buy cigarettes, will save 104,000 lives and stop 228,000 kids from smoking.”

But Palm Springs school board member and former city police chief Gary Jeandron, a member of a Prop 29 opponents group Californians Against Out-of-Control Taxes and Spending, in a release blasted the tax increase.

“Sacramento just doesn’t seem to get it: our focus right now needs to be on creating jobs and getting our economy moving again,” he said. “Cancer research is important, but Prop. 29 is just another ploy to grow the size of government and raise our taxes.”

Full disclosure: the Californians Against group has received major funding from Phillip Morris USA, the nation’s leading cigarette manufacturer.