California may have the second lowest smoking rate in the country but in terms of sheer numbers, it's home to the nation's largest smoking population -- 3.3 million. Cigarette taxes are one of the most effective tools in reducing smoking, yet California's tobacco tax is among the nation's lowest. The tax now stands at 87 center per pack, which is lower than that of 32 other states, many of which have taxes in excess of $2 a pack. New York's tax is more than $4.
Voters can help reinvigorate the state's anti-smoking efforts by voting in favor of Proposition 29. The measure would increase the cigarettes tax by $1 per pack, a move which alone will save 100,000 lives. Prop. 29 will designate the new proceeds to fund cancer research, anti-smoking programs and tobacco control enforcement.
Cigarette taxes have a proven impact on smoking rates. Study after study has found that when taxes on cigarettes rise, smoking rates among youth, low-income populations and minorities drop, and the number of calls to "quit" hotlines jumps.
Raising the price of cigarettes is an especially effective smoking deterrent for teens, a critical population in anti-smoking efforts since nearly all habitual smokers pick up the habit by age 18. Earlier this year the U.S. Surgeon General declared smoking a pediatric epidemic. Despite all the anti-smoking efforts in the past 20 years, one in four teens still smokes. The Surgeon General called for a renewed effort to combat teen smoking and recommended cigarette taxes as one of the most effective tools in this fight.
Proposition 29 will raise $500 million annually for cancer research. Despite claims by critics that the money may go to out-of-state research institutions, the legislation is clearly intended to keep the money in California, which is home to seven of the nation's leading cancer research centers. Likewise, claims that Prop. 29 creates a costly new state bureaucracy are unfounded since the initiative caps administrative costs at 2 percent. That means a full 98 percent of the funds will go directly to research and anti-smoking efforts. Those are far better margins than you'd find in most state agencies or non-profits.
Here's something else to consider: The cost of smoking-related illness in the state comes out to nearly $10.50 per pack sold. Who pays for these health costs? All of us. It's perfectly reasonable to require smokers to pay a token user fee for such a reckless habit. California is long overdue in taking this step.