IN A MOVE THAT WILL SURPRISE absolutely nobody, State Sen. Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) voted in committee last week against a proposal to tack a tax on cigarettes to raise about $1.2 billion annually for the state’s ailing general fund.
He also recently voted against two measures, SB 602 and SB 603, which would make it harder for minors to buy cigarettes.
The senator joined two other Republicans in voting no on SB 600, despite the fact that polls, such as one conducted after the May vote and another done in April by Field Research Inc. say an overwhelming majority of state residents favor an increase in tobacco taxes and don’t want to see drastic cuts to health-care programs for low-income and disabled residents and children.
In the last 10 years, tobacco companies have spent millions in California to keep taxes on tobacco products here among the lowest in the nation. Strickland alone has been the recipient of a whopping $91,550 in tobacco contributions since he entered politics.
According to tobacco-facts.net, California’s tobacco tax rate of 87 cents per pack is 32nd in the nation. Rhode Island is No. 1 with $3.46 a pack. Some city governments in other areas of the U.S. have imposed their own taxes as well.
The bill, co authored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has earmarked the revenue to go toward the general fund, lung cancer research, tobacco cessation and control, school-based anti-smoking programs and tobacco enforcement efforts. SB 600 is sponsored by the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association.
Besides generating much-needed revenue, the bill is expected to discourage smoking among youth, according to a press release issued by Padilla.
“California needs to do more to keep tobacco away from kids,” Padilla said. “With every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, youth smoking is reduced by about seven percent and overall cigarette consumption by about four percent. Raising the tobacco tax reduces youth smoking,” he added.
The bill’s co-sponsor, the American Cancer Society, argues that the increase is long overdue and since California’s last tobacco tax increase, 44 states have increased their tobacco taxes. The American Heart Association, also a co-sponsor, argues that this bill will help reduce heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer in the United States.
Assemblymember Tom Torlakson (D-Antioch) has introduced a similar bill, AB 89.
STRICKLAND HAS A LONG HISTORY of siding with Big Tobacco on legislation, especially when it comes to sales of tobacco products to minors. Beyond the recent votes against bills to curb youth smoking, while in the Assembly he voted against allowing the Department of Health Services to conduct stings on businesses selling tobacco to minors. It passed into law anyway. He also voted against restricting non face-to-face sales of cigarettes. The measure was signed into law by Schwarzenegger.
In May, he voted against SB 4 which prohibits smoking on any state coastal beach or state park unit, except in adjacent parking lots.
The Ventura County Republican Party has been well funded by tobacco dollars as well, with $50,000 deposited into its account in May of 2008 by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris.
Other county tobacco donations include $28,650 for Assembly member Audra Strickland (R-Moorpark), $20,900 for Assembly member Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita), and $18,900 for Sen. George Runner (R-Lancaster). None of the current Democratic legislators have accepted tobacco money.
Watch to see how all these politicians vote when the bills come before them.
SB 600 is opposed by California Chamber of Commerce, California Black Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley, the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the California Taxpayers Assn. and the Neighborhood Market Assn. All these groups have received tobacco contributions, according to tobacco-facts.net.
Of the two senators who sided with Strickland in the Senate Health Committee, both have also accepted tobacco money. Sen. Dave Cox (R-Fair Oaks) accepted $26,800 and Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) took $10,100.