Lively and in-depth discussions of city news, politics, science, entertainment, the arts, and more.
Hosted by Larry Mantle
Airs Weekdays 10 am - 12 pm

4 things the pro and anti campaigns want you to know about California's proposed tobacco tax hike

Listen to story

Download this story 12MB

Proposition 56 has been touted as a way to combat youth smoking and fund cancer treatment, but critics are calling it a special interest tax grab.

The controversial ballot measure would give California one of the highest taxes on tobacco, taking the current rate from 87 cents to $2.87 per pack of cigarettes.

E-cigarettes and cigars, as well as other tobacco products would be included in the tax.

Aside from the measure’s goal to urge the public not to smoke, the tax would bring $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion during its first year, and is mostly going to fund the state insurance program, Medi-Cal. Funders of the measure include health care companies. (See the top funders)

But opponents of the measure, including the tobacco industry, argue that Prop 56 would benefit health insurance companies.

Larry Mantle hosted a debate with Robb Korinke of the Yes on 56 campaign and Beth Miller of the No on 56 campaign. Here are four things they want you to know about the controversial ballot measure:

1. Prop. 56 is heavily geared toward reducing youth smoking

Robb Korinke: There are studies that demonstrate that hiking the cost of cigarettes does lead to a decline in smoking, particularly among youth, and that's one thing I want to emphasize most. Prop 56 is really geared toward trying to reduce youth smoking, and it would extend the existing state taxes as well as the new proposed tax to electronic cigarettes, which are becoming a strong gateway for youth to begin smoking.

2. E-cigarettes are included in the tax 

Korinke: We have strong evidence that E-cigarettes are not helping people quit, they're helping people start [smoking]. A USC study notes that youth are more than six times more likely to start smoking regular cigarettes [if they use E-cigarettes]. Note: a study published in the British Medical Journal that Larry Mantle cited during the interview found that E-cigarettes that contain nicotine can help people stop smoking.

3. Most of the tax revenue will go to Medi-Cal

Korinke: About $1 billion per year will go to Medi-Cal. . . the funds that go into that have to go directly into care, they're very tight state and federal regulations about how those dollars get spent. And if they don't provide the care, they don't get the money.

Beth Miller: Prop 56 relies on an unstable and declining revenue stream. Even the legislative analysts office said the funds generated from this measure are expected to decline over time as cigarette consumption decreases. . . If Medi-Cal is a significant concern and a public policy priority, it should be funded with a stable revenue stream and not by a targeted tax. 

4. Smuggling of cigarettes could be exacerbated with the tax increase

Miller: We have a huge law enforcement component to our broad-based coalition, and they're on board because of concern that an increase in the tobacco tax will significantly increase black market, counterfeit and smuggling. Currently, 31.5 percent of cigarettes consumed in California are smuggled. 

*Note: This interview has been edited for clarity


Robb Korinke, official spokesperson for the Yes on 56 campaign

Beth Miller, official spokesperson for the No on 56 campaign

How much is being spent on the campaigns?

Voting has begun in California. KPCC is here for you and will help you develop your Voter Game Plan. Use our election guide to find your personalized ballot.