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LACMA Joins Fight as Initiative to Raise State’s Tobacco Tax Head to November Ballot

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Following Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of a sweeping package of tobacco bills into California law, including one that will raise the legal age to buy products from 18 to 21, and another that dramatically tightens restrictions on e-cigarettes, a campaign to raise California’s cigarette tax by $2 announced last week that it has collected enough signatures to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

Backers hope the higher cost of cigarettes will discourage young people from smoking, while raising money for anti-smoking campaigns and research on tobacco-related illnesses.

Major backers of the campaign include the California Medical Association, California Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, and the Service Employees International Union, which represents the largest number of healthcare workers in California and has a deep interest in building healthy communities and a healthy economy for working families.

“LACMA is proud to join the fight against tobacco use while supporting much-needed funding for Medi-Cal and Medi-Cal providers,” Gustavo Friederichsen, CEO of LACMA, told PNN. “Decades ago, LACMA led the effort to create smoke-free environments throughout Los Angeles County, and today we are part of this historic campaign to rid the state of tobacco use, which kills thousands of Californians each year.”

The average cost of a pack of cigarettes in California is now about $5.50. The $2-a-pack increase would bump that to about $7.50 — an increase of about $750 a year for people who smoke a pack a day — if cigarette-makers pass along the full amount to consumers. The proposed tax increase would also apply to electronic cigarettes and other products with tobacco or nicotine.

Stan Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and director of its Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, co-authored a study that finds that if just 10% of smokers nationwide quit, it would save a whopping $63 billion in national healthcare costs the next year.

Tobacco’s financial toll in the U.S. today amounts to an annual $300 billion, with nearly $170 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity.

In California the smoking rate is 11% to 12% compared to 17% nationally. The state’s smoking rate is lower, Glantz said, because of California’s long history of anti-smoking campaigns and clean indoor-air policies (which were strengthened last week when Gov. Jerry Brown signed five anti-tobacco bills into law).

Research has also shown that smokers who quit cut their risk of heart and asthma attacks within a month, and pregnant women who stopped smoking were more likely to deliver infants at healthier birth weights than smokers.

When cigarette smokers quit, societal healthcare costs immediately plunge. “You start to see the benefits quickly, and they’re huge because healthcare costs are so gigantic,” Glantz told Reuters Health.

It’s all those heart attacks and strokes that don’t happen, and other health risks avoided, such as asthma attacks, that save money. Those savings grow with time by the reduced costs of not having to take care of the ongoing chronic illnesses that are generated by smoking, Glanz reported.

When the U.S. Surgeon General first linked smoking to lung cancer in 1964, 43% of American adults were smokers; today that proportion is 18%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite the decline, smoking still kills more than 480,000 Americans a year, and thousands of the nation’s youth take up the habit every day.

Tom Frieden, MD, director of CDC, told Reuters Health that the study is another good documentation that tobacco control really is a best-buy that we need to invest in because it will save lives and money.

“Smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., and it is driving up our healthcare costs,” Dr. Frieden said. “On the flip side, tobacco-control measures save lives and save money. The states that do more on tobacco control see their people live longer and cost less in healthcare.”

Tobacco-control measures include raising cigarette taxes, creating smoke-free environments, airing hard-hitting anti-smoking ads and helping smokers quit.

U.S. states spend only a small fraction of the $3.3 billion the CDC recommends for tobacco control, yet appropriate state expenditure would accelerate the decline in tobacco use in youth and adults and bring forward an end to the tobacco-smoking epidemic while saving billions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs.

The tobacco industry spends a million dollars every hour to promote its products, Dr. Frieden said, adding: “We in public health need to do everything we can to promote the facts.”

The tobacco tax campaign reported this month that it had spent $2 million during the first three months of the year and had more than $4 million in cash on hand.

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