California lawmakers have passed an historic package of bills that seek to reduce the negative health effects of tobacco on children.
In a largely unexpected move, the California legislature stood up to the tobacco lobby and powerful contributors to pass a series of bills that raise taxes on cigarettes, cigars, and chew for the first time in almost 20 years. According to a report from the Los Angeles Times, California’s tobacco tax rate is one of the lowest in the entire country.
The last time the state hiked tobacco taxes, it was the will of a popular vote and not the actions of the legislature. The national average tax for a pack of cigarettes is $1.61. California’s tax rate is roughly half, about 87 cents. By contrast, New York taxes cigarettes at $4.35 per pack.
The recent bill allows counties to vote on local tobacco taxes, but legislators are still being credited for spearheading the effort to hike tobacco taxes. State officials hope that extra revenue earned from the sale of tobacco could go towards public health programs that help people quit smoking.
The real reason behind the bill and tax hike, however, is to discourage people from picking up the habit in the firs place. Studies show that a ten percent increase in cigarette prices is accompanied by an average four percent drop in overall tobacco use.
The legislature needed a two thirds majority vote to get the bill passed and hike tobacco taxes, and enough lawmakers stepped up to the plate and voted for the tax increase. The assembly passed a number of bills, including one from Senator Ed Hernandez that would raise the smoking age in the state from 18 to 21. The bill passed 49 to 25.
The state joins Hawaii as well as San Francisco and New York City on the list of places that have raised the smoking age to 21. Lawmakers also passed a bill that would regulate electronic cigarettes like tobacco, arguing that the new devices were a ploy to keep younger children interested in and addicted to tobacco products.
It was a bad day for tobacco interests, but the bills passed can hopefully begin alleviating some of the harm tobacco brings.
A summary of the bills can be found here.