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.
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“(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.