Dr. Richard Pan Introduces Tobacco Tax Legislation to Save Lives, Money

“Save Lives CA” Coalition and Senator Richard Pan Join Forces to Prevent Smoking and Fight Tobacco-Related Diseases

March 3, 2015

Sacramento, CA – The Save Lives California Coalition joined Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) to announce legislation that will increase California’s tobacco tax by $2 per pack, directing this funding to smoking prevention and alleviating the taxpayer burden of smoking-related disease. The coalition, comprised of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association in California, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the California Medical Association (CMA), SEIU California, Health Access California, and the California Hospital Association are submitting the legislation to reduce smoking rates among California’s youth and help save lives.

“California’s tobacco tax rate is currently among the lowest in the nation with 32 other states having a higher tax rate,” said Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), author of Senate Bill 591, the California Tobacco Tax Act of 2015. “SB 591 would put California’s tobacco tax rate at 8th in the nation and will restore California’s highly effective smoking prevention and research programs.”

The revenue generated from SB 591 will expand treatment services for Medi-Cal patients with tobacco-related and other illnesses, support existing statewide programs to prevent youth from using tobacco, stop illegal sales of tobacco, and increase funding for medical research into new treatments and cures for deadly diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

A study on the cost impact of smoking by the University of California at San Francisco Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program found that smoking costs $18.1 billion in California – $487 for each resident, or $4,603 per smoker – in direct healthcare costs and indirect costs from lost productivity due to illness and premature death. The study also found that in 2009, there were 34,363 smoking-related deaths in California, five times the number resulting from diabetes, influenza and pneumonia. 

“Every day that goes by without legislation like this, California spends $49 million in tobacco-related healthcare costs, with taxpayers picking up a substantial portion of that tab,” said Olivia J. Gertz, President and Chief Executive Officer of the American Lung Association in California. “This legislation will save the lives of about 100,000 people and spare taxpayers billions of dollars in healthcare costs.”

Research shows raising the tobacco tax by $2 per pack will:

  • Save more than 100,000 lives per year
  • Prevent more than 150,000 young people a year from ever starting to smoke
  • Save billions in healthcare dollars spent on tobacco-related diseases


“California doctors know that prevention is the best medicine when it comes to tobacco-related diseases. And, as California has shown before, prevention is possible. That’s why we are calling on Californians to join us in a powerful campaign that will save hundreds of thousands of lives,” said Luther Cobb, MD, CMA president.  “Save Lives California will position California to lead the nation in research, cures, and results.”

Studies by ACS CAN, Heart Association and Lung Association have all proven that taxing tobacco saves lives, reduces smoking and keeps kids from ever becoming lifetime smokers. California, home to the first Great American Smokeout in 1976, was once a nationwide leader in policies to save lives by reducing smoking, but the state’s tobacco tax rate has dropped to 33rd in the country, far behind states like New York, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Oregon and Washington.

Meanwhile, California is spending over $13 billion every year on healthcare treatment of tobacco-related diseases, with taxpayers paying for several billion of that through treatment of Medi-Cal patients with heart disease, cancer, lung disease and other tobacco-related illnesses.

“It’s time for California to once again emerge as a health care leader and take a stand against Big Tobacco,” said American Heart Association spokesperson Dr. Diane Sobkowicz. “Raising the tax will help fund the state tobacco control program and provide access to health care services.  We must protect the health of our state and ranking 33rd among the lowest tobacco tax rates in the nation is simply unacceptable.”

“California’s healthcare workers see firsthand how tobacco-related diseases hurt our loved ones and ring up costly bills for taxpayers,” said Terry Brennand with SEIU California. SEIU is California’s largest organization of nurses and other healthcare workers.

“Tobacco taxes stop smoking and save lives – period. The tobacco companies know this and that’s why they spend millions annually to influence and buy off lawmakers as a way to ward off meaningful policies that protect public health," said ACS CAN Vice President, Government Relations, Jim Knox.

There is clearly momentum building in the California Legislature to curb tobacco usage and nicotine addiction. This session alone there has been legislation introduced to remove smokeless tobacco from major league ballparks in California; raise the smoking age from 18 to 21; as well as regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products.

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Save Lives California is a coalition made up of the American Heart Association, American Lung Association in California, 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.