Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and Democratic Sen. Richard Pan spoke about the evils of cigarettes and vaporizers Tuesday at C.K. McClatchy High School as they joined a coalition of medical and labor groups to launch a petition for a ballot measure that would levy a $2 tax on tobacco sales.
“My mother smoked three packs a day of non-filtered cigarettes and died of lung cancer, so I have a personal interest in preventing smoking and preventing young people from starting smoking,” Steyer said to a room of teenagers. Steyer is a former hedge-fund manager turned advocate for legislation to fight climate change.
The ballot measure calls for the state to largely funnel the revenue from a tobacco tax to Medi-Cal, with some money set aside for anti-smoking programs and research on tobacco-related illnesses and diseases. The tax would apply to cigarettes, e-cigarettes and any other products containing or derived from tobacco or nicotine.
Pan, a practicing pediatrician from Sacramento, warned students that despite misconceptions, e-cigarettes are also addictive and contain nicotine.
“(The tobacco industry) figures that if they can get you hooked on nicotine, then they have you for life, and it’s very hard to quit,” Pan said.
The campaign is a response to strong opposition from the tobacco industry, which successfully lobbied against bills last year that would have increased the smoking age from 18 to 21, added a $2 cigarette tax and treated e-cigarettes as a tobacco product.
This time around, the anti-tobacco campaign is funded by the deep pockets of Steyer, who wrote a personal check for $1 million. The California Dental Association, the California Medical Association and the California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems also donated $1 million each to the cause. The Service Employees International Union California, the largest supporter, donated $3 million.
The campaign must collect 585,407 signatures by mid-July to qualify for the ballot.