Save Lives gathers signatures, raises funds

CDA and the Save Lives California coalition have launched the signature-gathering phase of a ballot measure campaign to increase the state's tax on tobacco products by $2 per pack. The coalition will have until April 26 to collect the required amount of signatures to qualify the "California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Act of 2016" for the November ballot and the campaign has a comprehensive program to ensure enough signatures are collected. CDA will be reaching out to components and grassroots leaders to provide members with an opportunity to sign the petitions to help qualify the measure.

In December, the state attorney general's office released the official title and summary for the measure and CDA is pleased that it includes a reference to dental disease prevention. The title and summary that would appear on voter ballots can be read here. Thirty million dollars of the revenue raised would go toward oral health programs overseen by the state dental director.

Additionally, the CDA board of trustees approved a $1 million donation to the Save Lives California campaign. The California Medical Association and philanthropist Tom Steyer also recently contributed $1 million each. Other coalition members include the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, Blue Shield of California, the Service Employees International Union and other health care organizations.

"Our contribution reflects the importance of this initiative to save lives and prevent more people from suffering the devastating effects of smoking-related diseases such as oral cancer and gum disease that dentists see every day in their practices," said CDA President Ken Wallis, DDS. "This measure will combat tobacco use and help fund essential programs to improve the oral health as well as the overall health of our most vulnerable Californians."

Studies show that for every 10 percent increase in the cost of a pack of cigarettes, youth smoking drops by up to 6.5 percent. An estimated 16,000 California teens become addicted to smoking every year and raising the price of tobacco products is an essential step in preventing teen addiction. Teen use of electronic cigarettes tripled from 2013 to 2014, and the ballot measure would apply the tax for the first time to electronic cigarettes as well.

California once led the nation in curbing tobacco use but has fallen to 35th among 50 states with a tobacco tax of 87 cents per pack. All but one state has raised their tobacco tax since California's last hike in 1998. The $2-per-pack tax increase would raise approximately $1.5 billion that would help offset the $3.5 billion in taxpayer dollars annually spent on treating Medi-Cal patients with tobacco-related illnesses and other diseases.

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in our state, killing 40,000 Californians each year. In addition to increased risk of cancer, tobacco use contributes to tooth decay, gum disease and tooth discoloration, and costs California's health care system more than $13 billion annually in medical expenses.

CDA will continue to keep members informed on Save Lives California and the coalition's efforts to secure signatures for the ballot initiative. For more information, contact Todd Roberson in CDA Public Affairs at 916.554.4982 or todd.roberson@cda.org.