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Bad news for smokers, as $2 cigarette tax kicks in Saturday

On Saturday, April 1, a $2 tax increase will be applied to tobacco products throughout California, due to the passage of Proposition 56. The prices in this photo, at the Twisted Pipe in Oakhurst, are before the tax takes effect.
On Saturday, April 1, a $2 tax increase will be applied to tobacco products throughout California, due to the passage of Proposition 56. The prices in this photo, at the Twisted Pipe in Oakhurst, are before the tax takes effect. Sierra Star

Smokers across California will soon have to shell out an extra $2 for each pack of cigarettes.

On Saturday, the state cigarette tax will increase from 87 cents to $2.87 due to Proposition 56, passed by nearly 65% of voters last November.

The price of other nicotine delivery products, such as dipping tobacco, little cigars, and e-cigarettes - also known as vaping devices - will be affected by the tax.

According to data available through the Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community program, 16.4% of adults in Madera County currently smoke.

Alan Gilmore, program manager for the Madera County Public Health Department, said the intent of the tax is to get people to stop using tobacco, or tobacco-related products like e-cigarettes.

“This is meant to create an opportunity for them to maybe reconsider the expense and the health consequences of using tobacco products,” Gilmore said. “Maybe this will be a time for them to think about either cutting back, or completely quitting.”

Resources are available to help those who wish to quit. By calling 1-800-NO-BUTTS (1-800-662-8887), anyone can get one-on-one conferencing with a counselor to help them through the process, Gilmore said. A website is also available at www.nobutts.org. Currently, Madera County doesn’t have the funds to offer smoking cessation services, Gilmore said.

Gilmore said research indicates it takes people about 12 attempts before they actually give up smoking for good.

“But everyone has to get started somewhere,” Gilmore said. “We recognize the fact that this creates a challenge for people who use tobacco because it will impact them financially. But again, the idea is to get people thinking about maybe there’s ways they’d rather spend that money, on things that are better for them than tobacco.”

Some healthcare plans may offer assistance, and Gilmore encouraged people to check with their providers.

Some feel the tax is an unfair burden on smokers, however, and remain unconvinced it will get people to quit.

Kenny Sharma, co-owner of Old Corral Grocery & Tackle, and manager of Twisted Pipe in Oakhurst, said customers have been flocking to both stores to stock up before the tax kicks in.

“Our businesses will be affected by this for the first couple of months, for sure,” Sharma said. “But a few months later it’ll be back to the same old stuff. People who smoke are going to smoke. It doesn’t matter if it costs $10, or $15.”

“It’s just another way of pushing us out of smoking, that’s all it is,” said James Rogers, a veteran of the U.S. Army. “Why’s it their responsibility to control what I choose to do? When I turned 18, I had no keeper. If I can go die in their wars, why can’t I smoke what I want?”

Revenue collected from Prop 56 will be distributed towards various health programs. Enforcement of tobacco laws will receive $48 million, $40 million goes to physician training, and $30 million towards preventing and treating dental diseases. Remaining funds will be sent largely to Medi-Cal, with a portion for tobacco prevention programs at schools, and researching various diseases related to tobacco use.

Last June, Gov. Jerry Brown also signed a slew of smoking laws that, among several changes, raised the legal age from 18 to 21 and tightened restrictions on e-cigarettes. Click here for a story on those laws.

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