California’s Proposition 56 Will Raise Tobacco Tax to Save Lives, Protect Children in Latino Communities and Across the State

By:  Hector Flores, MD

17000 Kids InfographicIn November, Californians will have a vital opportunity to save lives and to stand up to tobacco companies that have relentlessly targeted young people and ethnic minorities by approving Proposition 56. The initiative will raise the tax on tobacco products, which take a deadly, costly toll on Latinos in California.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death among Latinos. At 15.5 percent, Latino men have one of the highest smoking rates among all ethnic groups. Low-income Latinos smoke at especially high rates.

Prop 56 works like a user fee – adding a $2 per pack tax on cigarettes with an equivalent increase on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes containing nicotine. These tax dollars will be used to pay for treatment of tobacco-related diseases and for research designed to improve tobacco use prevention and tobacco cessation.

Taxing tobacco is proven to prevent would-be smokers – especially youth – from ever starting, and studies have found that Latinos of all age groups are more likely than other ethnic groups to quit smoking or cut back because of tobacco taxes. In every single state that has significantly raised its cigarette tax rate, smoking rates have gone down sharply.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Lung Association in California and American Heart Association are sponsoring Prop 56, because tobacco hurts all Californians – even those who don’t smoke.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among Hispanic men and the second leading cause among Hispanic women. All told, tobacco kills 40,000 Californians annually, more than guns, car accidents, HIV, alcohol, and illegal drugs combined. And Californians spend $3.5 billion dollars each year treating cancer and other tobacco-related diseases through Medi-Cal.

Only those who use tobacco products will pay this simple user fee. The majority of funds (estimated up to $1 billion annually with an additional $1 billion in Federal matching funds) generated by this initiative will go to pay for health care through Medi-Cal. About half of the 13 million Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal are Latino. Additional funds will go to reduce tobacco-related health disparities by training physicians in medically underserved areas, improving access to dental care, and funding tobacco prevention programs among kids.

Ninety percent of smokers start as teens, and tobacco companies are targeting Latino youth with high densities of tobacco advertising and discount tobacco retailers in Latino neighborhoods. The California Medical Association reports that flavored tobacco products are creating a dangerous new public health threat, particularly to youth and people of color.

In fact, youth-themed, candy-flavored electronic cigarettes containing nicotine are allowing a new generation of young consumers to get hooked on smoking. Teen use of e-cigarettes tripled in just one year. Kids who smoke e-cigarettes are twice as likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes. This year alone, an estimated 16,800 California youth will start smoking with Hispanic youth having the second-highest smoking rate of any ethnic group. One-third of those kids will eventually die from tobacco-related diseases.

No matter how you package it, smoking kills and taxing tobacco saves lives. Prop 56 is an important opportunity to safeguard Latino children and improve California’s communities, economy and healthcare system. Learn more at YesOn56.org.

Twitter: @YesOn56
Facebook: @YesOn56
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Flores Hector March 2011Hector Flores, MD, is Co-Director of the White Memorial Medical Center (WMMC) Family Medicine Residency Program which is widely recognized for training culturally competent physicians and placing them in medically underserved areas. He is also a member of the Los Angeles County Medical Association (LACMA) Board of Directors.


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