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Cigarette Tax Headed Toward Ballot

Cigarette tax proponents, who on Wednesday sent ballot initiative language to the Attorney General’s office, hope to collect enough signatures to put a $2-a-pack cigarette tax measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The tax has been projected to raise $1.5 billion in the first year.

Once the ballot title and language become official — which can take up to two months — the six-month-long signature-gathering effort begins. Ballot measure proponents will circulate petitions to try to gather more than 365,000 signatures from registered voters in California.

The measure is being proposed by the Save Lives California coalition, which includes the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association, the American Lung Association — and now also includes billionaire California businessman Tom Steyer, according to an announcement released Wednesday by the coalition.

“The initiative … will benefit Californians by reducing smoking rates and long term health care costs,” said Luther Cobb, president of the California Medical Association, in a written statement. “Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in California, killing more people than car accident, suicide, alcohol, illegal drugs and AIDS combined.”

Once the Secretary of State issues an official ballot title and summary, proponents have 180 days at that point to file enough signatures to equal at least 5% of the votes cast for governor in the last election. The submitted signatures then need to be verified by the Secretary of State’s office before qualifying as a ballot measure.

Two separate bills were introduced in the special legislative session on health to levy a $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes. Neither bill made it to the legislative floor.

SBX2-13, by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), would’ve spent $1.5 billion primarily on anti-smoking programs, tobacco-related medical research and Medi-Cal services. SBX2-14, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), was a little broader, including a revised version of the managed care organization tax and increases in provider rates for those serving the developmentally disabled.

SBX2-13 was co-authored by Hernandez. Both bills were designed to meet the governor’s stated goals of the special session on health, in part or in whole — to find a solution to the budget hole created by an impending loss of the MCO tax, to find funding for an ongoing replacement of In-Home Supportive Services and to figure out a way to increase Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates.

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