Young people share views on proposed cigarette tax

Straight Talk: Teens 'n' Twenties
By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: I’m following the ballot proposition to add a $1 tax to a pack of cigarettes purchased in California. The tax will be used for researching tobacco-related cancers and illnesses. There are claims that the increase will reduce the number of young people who light up. If it helps curb new smokers I’m all for it, but a friend thinks it’s just another tax on the mostly poor and uneducated. Does your panel think this extra cost will be a deterrent for new smokers? ~ Curious about the youth perspective in Irvine

Gregg, 21, Los Angeles: Wrong. I used to smoke, and the biggest reason for stopping was the price. First I cut back as a way to continue, but the cost was still too much and I eventually quit completely.  

Justin, 25, Redding: I work at a gas station where hefty profits come from tobacco. Every time the price goes up, people groan and say they should quit, but never do. We are near the high school and young people are always starting up. I support the tax. Let smokers pay all the costs of smoking. But don’t start taxing Girl Scout cookies!

Taylor, 15, Santa Rosa: Anything to lower the smoking rate is a good thing! I wish smoking was banned like other drugs.

Colin, 18, Sacramento: The California Legislature can’t get traction balancing the budget when so much of its revenues (this measure’s included) are mandated as to how they can be spent. Smoking stinks, but Prop. 29 is no help to our budget and should be defeated.  

Peter, 25, Monterey: Taxing an addictive substance with lots of users will definitely increase revenues. But a dollar-a-pack increase isn’t high enough to significantly deter users. So, yes, it ends up being a tax that mostly targets the poor.

Brandon, 20, Mapleton, Maine: Some young smokers will just switch to pot. Pot-smoking friends say an ounce of pot gives them more “puffs” per dollar than a pack of cigarettes. The cigarette tax is a “stupid” tax. It pays for the stupidity of smoking. 

Molly, 20, Berkeley: Cigarettes are already ridiculously expensive. But people don’t start smoking by going out and buying themselves a pack. They start with friends. By the time they start buying, they’re hooked, and their addiction doesn’t disappear because the price is higher. I think the tax will just penalize those who already struggle. How about taxing the tobacco companies instead? 

Katelyn, 17, Huntington Beach: Long-term smokers will still buy their tobacco, but the government isn’t the only one who thinks with its wallet – many teens do, too.

Dear Curious: Well, there you have it. A good range of controversy with over 70 percent of responding panelists supporting the tax. Right now, one in 12 teens smoke and one in three young adults smoke. Gauging from other states who raised their cigarette tax, the higher price should prevent 220,000 kids from getting addicted and motivate 100,000 adults to quit. That right there gets my vote. The tax will also support tobacco-cessation programs and efforts to stop underage sales. 

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More from Lauren Forcella 

Tobacco companies have coughed up a $47-million hairball to defeat this measure. That’s compared to only $4.7 million of hard-won cash from nonprofit supporters such as the American Cancer Society, Lance Armstrong Foundation and others. If the tobacco industry spending doesn’t testify to the fact that this measure will reduce smoking, I don’t know what will. 

Most of the negative sentiments toward the measure are a result of Big Tobacco’s propaganda. In 2006, when a similar increase was on the California ballot, I was influenced by opinion that cigarettes would become part of the black market drug trade on campus, thus exposing kids to harder drugs. I fell for this false (or, at best, inconsequential) claim, just like others fell for other inconsequential claims, and the bill failed. No more nonsense for me. Right here, several panelists speak to how the cost stimulates quitting or never starting. 

Smoking is the most preventable cause of disease, disability and death in the U.S., and almost every single smoker starts under age 25. California is lagging behind on smoking prevention with its current cigarette tax lower than 32 other states. This increase would bring us to No. 16 in the nation. We’re becoming a healthier society, and I’ll take a breath of fresh air to that.