Voters will decide in November whether to increase taxes on cigarettes, tobacco products and e-cigarettes.
The tax on a pack of cigarettes would go from 87 cents to $2.87, bringing the price of a pack of cigarettes to around $8. Other tobacco products would have similar tax increases.
It's a move most people in the medical field applaud for two reasons. First, the higher cost may force some people to stop smoking or forego even starting. And second, the money raised through Proposition 56 — estimated at $1 billion in the first two years — would be used to help offset costs of health care costs for low-income Californians and help pay for prevention programs and efforts to persuade people not to start smoking in the first place.
“Data shows that increasing taxes saves lives,” said Kings County Tobacco Control Program Director Oralia Vallejo.
According to the American Lung Association, smoking is responsible for about 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and about 80 percent of deaths caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
“Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body… it also is a cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and a host of other cancers and diseases,” according to the American Lung Association.
Vallejo said second-hand smoking does not help with the Central Valley’s poor air quality either.
“We want to clean the air and not contaminate it more,” she said.
Not everyone is on board, however.
Antar Mohamed, owner of Super Discount who sells tobacco products at his store in Hanford, said he thinks the proposed tax increase will be too much for his low-income customers.
“A lot of people cannot afford $10 for a pack of smokes,” he said.
“I vote no,” said Tejinder Johal, owner of Sierra Liquor and Deli.
Johal believes that increasing taxes on cigarettes can potentially have people sell them on the streets. He also said his business will not be able to make a profit if people are less inclined to purchase cigarettes from stores like his.
“I don’t know why they are doing that,” he said referring to the proposed tax increase.
E-cigarette proponents also aren't happy with the idea of the tax.
Electronic cigarettes are battery operated devices that allow users to inhale vapor containing nicotine or other substances. Electronic cigarettes heat the liquid from a refillable cartridge and releases vapor.
Rad Alkobadi, co-owner of Sal’s Tobacco in Hanford, said he has many customers turning to electronic cigarettes not only to quit traditional cigarettes but to save money too.
A starter kit with an electronic cigarette and battery can range to about $10 not including a 10ml liquid bottle that can cost about another $10. He said a bottle can last a lot longer than a pack of cigarettes if people smoke that on a daily basis.
Some e-cigarette fans have said the devices can help wean people off cigarettes because they can cut back on how much nicotine is used.
Alkobadi, who is 22, said he has been using electronic cigarettes since he was 19 years old. He said he rarely uses the liquid containing nicotine.
“I do it for fun,” he said. “There is no nicotine in there.”
Finding ways to overcome addiction to cigarettes is important for smokers, but the Lung Association and local health professionals don't recommend using e-cigarettes to quit.
Electronic cigarettes are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people quit smoking. Plus, they can still deliver nicotine and other harmful chemicals including carcinogens and lung irritants.
Instead, they recommend local programs such as the seven-week Freedom From Smoking, which is offered through Adventist in partnership with the American Lung Association.
“It’s more of a support group atmosphere,” Russel said. “We guide the participants through the quitting process.”
Russell said the important thing about the course is that they do not focus on the negative effects of smoking.
“We focus on the health benefits of quitting,” she said.
In the course, participants learn how to understand their addiction and find out ways to break their habits. Participants learn about nicotine replacement therapy such as gums and patches.