California’s official move Thursday to raise the legal tobacco purchase age to 21 years old will lower the state’s tobacco tax income by about $68 million a year, according to legislative analyses.
But sales of cigarettes and other tobacco products have steadily declined in California over the past several decades, with tobacco excise tax revenue eroding from its peak in the late 1990s.
Some lawmakers and health advocates say more should be done to reduce tobacco use, which they link to about 40,000 deaths annually in the state and $3.5 billion in government health care costs.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed several tobacco-related measures last month, including the bill to raise the smoking age to 21. A $2-a-pack tobacco tax increase is likely headed for the Nov. 8 ballot. The current rate is 87 cents a pack, lower than 33 other states.
Per-capita cigarette pack purchases in 2013-14 were one-sixth of what they were in 1959-60. Regional differences exist: rural Colusa County, for example, has three times as many licensed tobacco retailers per 1,000 adults as Marin County.
Tax revenue has fallen, too. That translates into annual drops in funding for the state general fund and other recipients of tobacco tax money, the largest of which is the California Children and Families First Trust Fund that pays for First 5 commissions around the state. From $611 million in revenue in 2005-06, the fund will receive a projected $438.5 million in the coming budget year, according to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget.