SMOKING: Bill Proposes Fee To Recover Health Care Costs
State Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) is proposing a bill that would "force tobacco companies to compensate taxpayers for the cost of caring for poor people who smoke," as incurred when Medi-Cal or county hospitals for the indigent provide such care. The Contra Costa Times reports that this could make California the "first state in the nation to levy a fee -- much like a huge tax -- against tobacco companies to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of treating smoking-related illnesses." "This is just a real simple taxpayer recovery act. I'm saying it's over a half-billion dollars the taxpayers need to be made whole on," Torlakson said. The Times reports that "[b]ased on recent estimates of taxpayer cost," the fee could "easily top" $700 million, but it "would be reduced in the future if California received money from its lawsuit against the tobacco industry."
Torlakson's bill "would require the state Department of Health Services to calculate how much taxpayers spend each year to treat tobacco-related illnesses"; the tobacco companies would pay a fee "according to their California market share." The money would be split between the state and counties. Because Torlakson's bill proposes a "fee" rather than a tax, it would require only a simple majority to pass, rather than the two-thirds majority required to pass a tax increase, the Times reports. The bill "will go before its first legislative committee next week." Philip Morris attorney Steve Rissman did not comment on Torlakson's proposal because he had not looked at it yet, but he did say "the industry is suspicious of attempts to calculate the health-related costs of tobacco." He said, "We have yet to see this economic statistical model that the states believe can establish their damages" (Rarick, 4/15).