California cigarette taxes may increase

March 9, 2009 6:53:59 PM PDT
If you smoke, prepare to pay more. Lawmakers may raise the cigarette tax dramatically to deal with the on-going budget crisis. Right now, the so-called state "sin-tax is 87 cents a pack.

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California smokers may soon have to pay a lot more to light up.

A bill by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson would tack $2.10 onto a pack of cigarettes. Add that to the current tax, 87 cents, and California would have the highest cigarette tax in the country.

An alternate measure to be introduced Tuesday, SB 600 would add a $1.50 per pack.

"We'll work together to find the right balance between the two bills and find a way to get it forward," said Assm. Torlakson.

A tax increase must pass by two-thirds majority. All recent legislative efforts to raise cigarette taxes in California have failed.

Right now, New York has the highest at $2.75 cents per pack and California ranks 31st in the country.

Denice Dennis manages Contra Costa County's Tobacco Prevention Program.

"We know that when you raise cigarette taxes, you actually have decreased consumption. Many smokers will try to quit and many young people will be discouraged from beginning to smoke," said Dennis.

The research may say otherwise, but some tobacco users we talked with said raising the price won't necessarily make them quit.

"We already know how bad it is, regardless. I'm going to quit when I want to quit and they can keep bumping it up, but most likely I'm going to keep buying chew or cigarettes," said tobacco user Andre Barancic.

Harry Phan owns a tobacco store in Walnut Creek.

"They say they want people to stop smoking because of the price. But if people stop smoking, the government's going to lose that revenue," said Phan.

If some California lawmakers have their way, Phan would charge more than $7 per pack. his cut would be about 40 cents.

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