Tobacco industry spends millions to block Prop. 56

Tobacco companies have spent more than $70 million fighting Proposition 56, a life-saving initiative that will protect kids from deadly addiction, improve access to health care for Californians and fight cancer and other tobacco-related diseases.

As a volunteer physician for the American Lung Association in California, I strongly support Prop 56. We must act now to loosen Big Tobacco’s grip on public health in California and to save our next generation from a lifetime of costly, deadly addiction. Proposition 56 will increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes and related products by two dollars. The funds raised will pay for tobacco-related health costs, cancer research, and youth smoking prevention education.

California has long been a national leader when it comes to tobacco control policy. The state recently became just the second in the nation to raise the smoking age to 21 and it now regulates electronic cigarettes the same as tobacco. Yet the state ranks embarrassingly low when it comes to tobacco taxes. In fact, 36 states have a higher tobacco tax than California.

The U.S. Surgeon General and World Health Organization agree that increasing the price of tobacco products is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco use. Studies show this is especially true with teens. Teen smoking remains a major health problem in California. Each year, nearly 17,000 teens start smoking tobacco and it’s estimated that one third of them will eventually die from a tobacco-related disease.

It’s unacceptable. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in California, killing more than car accidents, guns, alcohol, illegal drugs, and AIDS combined.

Low-income Californians and communities of color smoke, and die, at higher rates than other Californians. Tobacco companies target young African Americans and Latinos by selling menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco at cheaper prices to hook them young. In these communities, death rates from smoking are far higher. In fact, African American men and women are more likely to develop lung cancer and eventually die from the disease than any other racial or ethnic group. Prop 56 quadruples state funding for cancer research including lung cancer.

Prop 56 will reduce smoking rates in those underserved communities, while also improving health care for those most in need.

Don’t be fooled. The tobacco industry is not in the business of looking out for children and the poor. In fact their business depends on them using their products literally until the day they die.  Over the last decade, California has spent $50 billion on tobacco-related healthcare costs, while tobacco companies spent $200 million in campaign contributions to keep California’s tobacco tax low.

Prop 56 is good for California and it’s good for the future of public health. That’s why doctors including myself across the state are joining with the American Lung Association in California, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network in urging voters to say Yes on 56.

Ed’s Note: Darin Latimore, MD, is a volunteer physician with the American Lung Association in California and Past President of the California Chapter of the American College of Physicians.

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