Health groups launch California ballot initiative to raise taxes on tobacco, including e-cigarettes


Months after California’s Legislature failed to act, a coalition of health experts and the state’s schools chief on Wednesday launched a petition drive to qualify an initiative for the November ballot that would raise the cigarette tax by $2 per pack.

The measure would reduce smoking and raise money to expand treatment services for Medi-Cal patients, support anti-smoking campaigns and boost medical research, said Tom Steyer, co-chairman of the Save Lives Coalition.

“You can’t sugarcoat it: Smoking is deadly,” said Steyer, a billionaire and possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate who has contributed $1 million toward the initiative campaign.

“This initiative aims to save lives and stop teens from ever picking up the deadly tobacco habit in the first place,” he said.

Steyer said the issue is personal to him, because his mother smoked three packs of unfiltered cigarettes a day and died of lung cancer.

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, also is backing the measure — along with state Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Assn., the American Lung Assn. and the California Medical Assn.

The proposal would also extend tobacco taxes to electronic cigarettes, whose use by teenagers tripled between 2013 and 2014, Torlakson said during a news conference at C.K. McClatchy High School in Sacramento, where he met with students who talked about their use of the devices.