Capitol Alert

Data Tracker: California tobacco sales, revenue down

Sales of cigarettes and tobacco products have declined in California over the years.
Sales of cigarettes and tobacco products have declined in California over the years. Associated Press file

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, though, 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.

Several tobacco-related measures advanced in the Legislature this week, including bills to raise the smoking age to 21 and treating electronic cigarettes as tobacco products. The Assembly also passed a bill allowing cities and counties to put a local tobacco tax increase on the ballot.

Away from the Capitol, the California Medical Association, Service Employees International Union and environmentalist mega-donor Tom Steyer, among others, have donated $1 million apiece toward qualifying a November ballot measure that would increase the tobacco tax on cigarettes by $2 a pack. The current rate is 87 cents a pack, lower than 33 other states.

Also this week, a state audit raised concerns about how the state oversees its existing tobacco tax rules.

Tax evasion by tobacco consumers, retailers, wholesalers and distributors cost the state an estimated $214 million in 2012-13, the most recent year available, the Bureau of State Audits reported.

All the while, tobacco sales have steadily declined. Per-capita cigarette pack purchases in 2013-14 are 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.


The Sacramento Bee’s Data Tracker is a weekly feature that offers a deeper look at the numbers behind today’s news. Jim Miller: 916-326-5521, @jimmiller2

Licensed tobacco retailers

Click or tap on a county to see the number of licensed tobacco retailers per 1,000 adults. Note: About 1 percent of the state’s 34,000 tobacco retailers could not be readily mapped.