CDA, anti-tobacco coalition gear up for special session

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. 

Prior to the Legislature beginning its summer recess in July, the coalition also announced the introduction of a package of other proposals addressing tobacco use for the special session.  The bills, some of which appeared earlier this year as a part of the regular legislative session, will draw further attention to the costs of tobacco use to the Medi-Cal program and the broader health care system.

The bills include:

  • SB 7 X2 (Hernandez)/AB 8 X2 (Wood) – raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
  • SB 5 X2 (Leno)/ AB 6 X2 (Cooper) – applies the same restrictions on the use and sale of electronic cigarettes that currently only apply to standard cigarettes.
  • SB 6 X2 (Monning)/ AB 7 X2 (Stone) – closes loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws, including hotel lobbies, small businesses, break rooms and tobacco retailers.

The governor called for the special legislative session in June, in conjunction with the new state budget agreement, with the intent of stabilizing Medi-Cal funding and the program's revenue sources. This includes an existing tax on medical-managed health care organizations — referred to as the "MCO Tax" — that needs to be changed in order to comply with new federal requirements and preserve federal matching money the tax brings to the state.

The $2-per-pack tax being proposed by the Saves Lives California coalition would raise approximately $1.5 billion and 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 with the same tobacco tax rate on the books since 1998, the state's current tax of 87 cents per pack has fallen to 35th among the 50 states.

While the special session will resume in August, there is no set timetable for its completion. Should tobacco tax legislation not be approved, the Saves Lives Coalition has filed ballot measures for the November 2016 ballot to take the issue to voters.

Tobacco-related deaths are the single most preventable cause of death in California, claiming more than 40,000 lives per year, and tobacco use costs the state more than $13 billion annually in tobacco-related medical expenses. California has approximately 3.4 million adult smokers and 200,000 youth smokers.

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.

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CDA has joined Save Lives California, a coalition of groups seeking to save thousands of lives by raising California’s cigarette tax. “Dentists have long stood as an important line of defense not just for our patients’ oral health, but also their overall health,” said CDA President Walt Weber, DDS.