Sweeping Series of Bills Takes on Big Tobacco to Save Lives in California

Unprecedented multi-legislative effort puts forth five bills to curb youth tobacco use, reign in cost of smoking-related disease, and expand access to health care.

April 8, 2015

Sacramento- Today, the Save Lives California coalition gathered with lawmakers at the California State Capitol to laud a sweeping series of recently introduced bills that take on Big Tobacco. Taken as a whole, these bills represent an unprecedented coordinated legislative effort in California to curb youth tobacco usage, regulate e-cigarettes, and save Californian lives and money, as well as expand access to health care for low-income Californians.

Two of the bills, SB 140 (Leno) and SB 151 (Hernandez) will be heard in the Senate Health Committee later today.

Together, the five bills mark an unprecedented legislative effort to fight, prevent and treat tobacco and nicotine addiction, the net effect of which costs California nearly $18.1 billion in direct healthcare costs and indirect costs from lost productivity due to illness and premature deaths, according to University of California, San Francisco researchers. In 2014 alone, over 40,000 Californians died from tobacco-related diseases.

“The effort of the Save Lives Coalition and the authors of the legislation here today are tremendous,” said Laura Tyrell, three-time cancer survivor and American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network volunteer ambassador. “Each of these bills hits on a different piece of the comprehensive approach necessary to reduce the burden of tobacco and improving the health of not just individuals but our communities.”

The five key tobacco-fighting bills include:

SB 591 (Pan, D-Sacramento) will raise the tobacco tax by $2 per pack. Increasing the cost of tobacco is widely recognized as the most effective way to reduce smoking across California, especially by young people. The additional money would go to proven tobacco youth prevention programs as well as expanding health access to low-income families and individuals. It would also fund established research programs to fight smoking-related diseases.

“This five-bill package of life-saving legislation is a bold response to the deadly and costly threat posed by tobacco addiction. Tobacco-related disease claims over 40,000 lives per year in California and costs taxpayers billions annually,” said Dr. Pan. “SB 591 will save lives and taxpayer money, while preventing young people from picking up the habit." 

AB 1396 (Bonta, D-Oakland), a companion piece to SB 591, will help ensure an infusion of funds into the Medi-Cal program from a tobacco tax to achieve the ultimate goal of improving the health of people who suffer from tobacco-related illnesses.

“Smoking-related diseases cost our state roughly $13.29 billion in medical expenses each year. Almost $3 billion are taxpayer dollars used to treat Medi-Cal patients with tobacco-related illnesses,” said Assemblymember Bonta. AB 1396 will reduce this taxpayer burden by directing tobacco tax revenues to the Medi-Cal program and improve the health of Californians suffering from cancer, heart disease and stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and other tobacco related diseases.

SB 140 (Leno, D-San Francisco) will regulate electronic cigarettes and ensure that such products are subject to similar laws as other tobacco products and fall under California’s smoke-free laws. California’s Smoke Free Act prohibits smoking at workplaces, schools, daycares, restaurants, bars, hospitals and on public transportation, protecting Californians from secondhand smoke and reducing the acceptability of smoking in general. E-cigarettes, however, do not fall under this existing law and are largely unregulated.

“No tobacco product should be exempt from California’s smoke-free laws simply because it’s sold in a modern or trendy disguise,” said Senator Leno. “Addiction is what’s really being sold. Like traditional cigarettes, e-cigarettes deliver nicotine in a cloud of other toxic chemicals, and their use should be restricted equally under state law in order to protect public health.”

SB 151 (Hernandez, D-West Covina) seeks to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products from 18 to 21. More than 90 percent of current adult smokers began in their teen years. By raising the age, it will remove large numbers of impressionable younger people from predatory tobacco advertising and reduce the number of tobacco users going forward.

“Tobacco companies know that people are more likely to become addicted to smoking if they start at a young age,” said Senator Hernandez. “We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them. This unprecedented assault on tobacco is long overdue.”

AB 768  (Thurmond, D-Richmond) calls to prohibit smokeless tobacco at California ballparks. Though smoking has been on the decline in general in the United States, smokeless tobacco has remained troublingly steady with 14.7 percent of high school boys and 8.8 percent of all high school students reporting current usage of smokeless tobacco products according the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

"The bottom line is that this isn't rocket science,” said Assemblymember Thurmond. “Smokeless tobacco causes cancer. We know kids idolize their favorite baseball players, and we know those kids will emulate them. Each year, 535,000 teenagers use smokeless tobacco for the first time.  AB 768 will send a clear and powerful message to the youth of our state: baseball and smokeless tobacco do not mix."

Save Lives California is a coalition made up of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, joined by doctors, nurses, patients, survivors, hospitals, health care workers and taxpayers all dedicated to passing a life-saving $2 tobacco tax by the end of 2016.

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