Health groups are ramping up their pressure on state lawmakers for a $2-per-pack cigarette tax in California. Supporters say it hasn't been raised in 15 years, yet the cost to treat tobacco-related illnesses for the millions on Medi-Cal -- the state's health care program for the poor -- keeps rising. The money would also boost anti-smoking campaigns.
"California taxpayers are spending $3 billion a year on medical costs for Medi-Cal patients that are related to tobacco. And so it only makes sense that we invest more in this program to drive down smoking rates and to invest the money to off-set the cost," said Jim Knox from the American Cancer Society.
New York has the highest cigarette tax in the country at $4.35 per pack of 20. California ranks fairly low with an 87-cent tax. Missouri has the lowest at 17-cents a pack. The $2-a-pack increase would make the Golden State the 6th highest, bringing a pack of cigarettes to more than $7.
Opponents like the California Retailers Association say the tax will cost jobs, as sales dip and a black market opens up.
California voters already rejected a $1-per-pack tax last year, losing by less than a half-percent.
"They're almost being criminalized for being smokers," John Thielen, a tax opponent. He doesn't smoke, but feels a cigarette tax is unfair and opens up the door for more taxes. "I believe once people stop smoking, and it gets down to the point where they're not making any revenue off it, they'll go right after alcohol in the same fashion."
Bryan Walters, who's been smoking for 30 years, says it could be an incentive for people to stop smoking.
"It's expensive. I know I need to quit for my own health anyway. So if something has to be taxed, it should be the luxury items," said Walters.
While Democrats will be using supermajority powers to get the tobacco tax through, the Governor has been reluctant to overuse it.