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California Considers Cigarette Tax Increase

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Despite 14 failed attempts over the years, California lawmakers are again considering a proposal to raise tobacco taxes, weighing an increase of $1.50 per pack as part of an effort to address the $21.3-billion state budget deficit, the Los Angeles Times reported May 25.

The proposed tax increase is expected to raise $1.2 billion annually. “Given the serious budget shortfall we face, this is the year to pass the tobacco tax,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima). “It is needed now more than ever.”

Regardless of the economic climate, however, the legislation is expected to face a great deal of opposition. Tobacco companies view California as a “battleground state,” said Beverly May, regional director of Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids — a place “that they look at as important to do everything they can to have influence in any way they can.”

Frank Lester, a spokesman for cigarette company Reynolds American Inc., said previous attempts to raise the cigarette tax failed because California residents view the tax as unfair and are “dubious” about how tobacco tax revenues have been spent in the past.

The American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, and American Heart Association led a failed campaign to raise cigarette taxes by $2.60 per pack three years ago. While opinion polls indicate that voters support a tax increase, bill proponents were not able to match the $66 million spent by tobacco companies to defeat the measure.

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