Capitol Alert

$2-per-pack tobacco tax could land on California ballot

A proposed measure would raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack.
A proposed measure would raise California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack. AP

A coalition of health and labor groups on Monday submitted a pair of initiatives for the 2016 ballot to raise the state’s tobacco tax by $2 a pack, perhaps an acknowledgment that a similar effort moving through the Legislature will ultimately be scuttled.

Save Lives California, including the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, California Medical Association and SEIU California, filed two measures with the Attorney General’s Office for titles and summaries. Backers will likely decide later which one to take to the streets for signatures and a place on the ballot. One measure allows state tax officials to impose an equivalent tax on electronic cigarettes.

Voters could have a say on tobacco tax initiative four years after they narrowly rejected Proposition 29, which sought to raise the tax by $1 a pack to raise nearly $750 million. Six years before, tobacco companies spent heavily to beat back a $2.60 per pack tax known as Proposition 86.

California, which last raised its tobacco tax in 1998, taxes cigarettes at $0.87 a pack, reflecting what advocates say is one of the lowest of such taxes in the nation. Currently, some 30 states have cigarette tax rates of $1 per pack or more, the proposal states, and lawmakers are advancing a package a bills that would hike the levies as a way to decrease dependence on tobacco.

The filing “now keeps all options open for 2016 and helps build public awareness of the need for urgent action to save lives,” the group said in a statement. Advocates anticipate the measure would raise about $1.5 billion in its first year, providing money to healthcare programs and services; cancer, heart and lung disease research; prevention efforts to discourage tobacco use and to reduce cigarette smuggling and illegal sales.

Call Christopher Cadelago, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5538. Follow him on Twitter @ccadelago.