Coalition, CDA move forward with tobacco tax initiative

The Save Lives California coalition, which CDA is part of, has filed its final version of a ballot measure for the November 2016 election to raise the state's tobacco tax by $2 per pack. The coalition had committed to pursuing a ballot measure if the Legislature was unable to pass legislation this summer, and with no legislative action at the end of this year's session, the coalition is moving ahead with a ballot measure campaign.

The $2-per-pack tax increase proposed by the Saves Lives California coalition will discourage smoking and raise approximately $1.5 billion that will help offset the more than $3.5 billion in taxpayer dollars annually used to treat Medi-Cal patients with tobacco-related illnesses and other diseases. California once led the nation in curbing tobacco use, but the state's current tax of 87 cents per pack has fallen to 35th among the 50 states. All but one state in the country has raised their cigarette tax since California's last hike in 1998.

The coalition added language to the measure that dedicates $30 million of the revenue annually to the Department of Public Health, specifically for the state dental plan and oral health programs overseen by the dental director. This would provide an unprecedented dedicated funding source for oral health programs in California.    

In another major development, Tom Steyer, a billionaire philanthropist who has become increasingly involved in political causes over the last few years, has also joined the effort. Steyer will provide a significant funding boost for the campaign.

"Tobacco use has a direct impact on oral health, which has a direct impact on overall health, so we are pleased to be a part of this coalition and excited that Mr. Steyer has come aboard," said CDA President Walt Weber, DDS. "Should the ballot measure pass in next year's election, it would be a big boost for oral health in the state."

Other members of the coalition include the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, California Medical Association, Service Employees International Union and Blue Shield of California.

Recent public polling shows that voters overwhelmingly support a $2 tobacco tax increase. A field poll found 67 percent of voters in favor of the proposal.

Studies from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that 90 percent of smokers start as teens. In California, 21,000 kids get hooked on smoking every year, and half of them will die from tobacco-related illnesses. California has approximately 3.4 million adult smokers and 200,000 youth smokers, and tobacco-related deaths are the single most preventable cause of death in the state, claiming more than 40,000 lives per year – more than car accidents, suicide, alcohol, illegal drugs and AIDS combined. Tobacco use also costs the state more than $13 billion annually in medical expenses.

In addition to increased risk of cancer, tobacco use contributes to tooth decay, gum disease and tooth discoloration. What's more, nine out of 10 smokers have their first cigarette before the age of 18. If current smoking rates continue, one in every 13 American children alive today will eventually die from smoking.

CDA will keep members informed on these efforts in the CDA Update and on cda.org.

Related Items

CDA and the Save Lives California coalition are encouraging supporters to sign an online petition urging the state Legislature to raise the state's tobacco tax and have launched a statewide digital advertising campaign to mobilize support for the effort.

The Save Lives California coalition that CDA is a member of continues to move forward in its efforts to fight tobacco use during this year’s special legislative session on health care. The special session will resume when the Legislature returns from its summer recess on Aug. 17 and will include consideration of the coalition’s proposal to increase the state’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack, which would provide additional funding for the Medi-Cal program as well as smoking prevention and education programs.