The East Bay Times - Editorial: California’s historic anti-smoking week

May 5, 2016


The tobacco industry is having its worst week since 1990, when Congress banned smoking on all domestic airline flights lasting six hours or less. And “worst” for Big Tobacco is good for the rest of us.

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a sweeping package of anti-smoking bills that will regulate the manufacture and sale of e-cigarettes in California and increase the legal smoking age from 18 to 21. Then the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday it would extend federal regulatory authority to e-cigarettes, a $3.5 billion dollar industry that attracted an estimated 450,000 middle and high school students to start the addictive habit in 2014.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, tobacco lobby.

The FDA decision means that all e-cig products will need to go through the federal agency’s tough approval process, which has been essentially unregulated. It could eventually mean that the FDA would ban the sale of some flavored e-cigarettes — think cotton candy and bubble gum — designed to appeal to youth.

The industry has been spending more than $4 million a year trying to prevent this type of regulation, including tens of thousands of dollars a year to members of California’s Legislature. It explains why the state hasn’t raised its tobacco tax even though smoking kills nearly 40,000 Californians every year.

Fortunately, state senators Mark Leno and Ed Hernandez and Assemblymen Mark Stone, Tony Thurmond and Adrin Nazarian had the courage to stand up to the tobacco industry. They carried the bills that Brown signed Wednesday.

The next logical step for Californians will come this fall, when an initiative for a $2 a pack tobacco tax increase should be on the ballot. The $1.5 billion in annual revenue would go for anti-smoking programs and provide desperately needed funding to increase the state’s atrocious Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for doctors.

The tobacco industry will spend tens of millions of dollars to fight the initiative. Two-thirds of California voters now say in polls they support the new tax, but don’t write off the pro-tobacco campaign.

The governor vetoed a bill that would have allowed counties to enact local cigarette taxes. But Brown did sign five other bills primarily aimed at preventing kids from taking up the habit, including bills requiring all California schools to be tobacco free, closing loopholes in the state’s smoke-free workplace laws and increasing the annual licensing fees for retailers and distributors to help pay for tobacco tax enforcement.

Despite the state’s anti-smoking programs, California still has 3.5 million smokers. The health care costs that result are nearly $18 billion a year.

Anything that will reduce smoking improves the overall health of the state and puts more money in taxpayers’ wallets.

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