Over the Hill

Raise the cigarette tax to save lives; vote ‘yes’ on Proposition 56

The price of a pack of cigarettes in California may soon rise by $2.

That’ll happen if voters approve Proposition 56 in November. Prop 56 could also keep some teenagers or preteens from starting to smoke. They may decide they’d rather spend $2 on something else.

Our present state cigarette tax is 87 cents per pack. An Associated Press story said the average price of a pack of cigarettes in California is now about $5.50. The $2 tax hike would raise it to $7.50.

Naturally, the big tobacco companies will fight the increase. I read in the July 20 Tribune that two of the biggest have put up $17 million to fight Prop 56. Of course, what they should really have done is donate $17 million — and much more — toward the medical bills of people whose lungs and other organs are severely damaged from tobacco smoke.

If California voters approve Prop 56, it will raise our state cigarette tax to $2.87. But that won’t be the highest in the United States. New York State’s has the highest: $4.35.

Why do people start smoking anyhow? I bet it’s mainly because their friends smoke, and it’s sociable to join in. I remember the first cigarette I smoked. A classmate gave it to me. We were probably in the sixth grade. He wasn’t trying to get me hooked. He was just being friendly.

I smoked it as I rode home from school on my bicycle. I got dizzy and had to lie down alongside the road. But that didn’t keep me from smoking again and again. I wanted to be part of the group. I eventually learned to smoke.

I was lucky enough to be able to quit in 1963. More and more research was being publicized then about the connection between lung disease and tobacco smoke. But someone near and dear to me found quitting much more difficult. Now her doctors talk about COPD — or chronic, obstructive, pulmonary disease.

A Wikipedia article states that public health officials have noticed a correlation between tobacco tax increases and tobacco sales decreases. They say every 10 percent raise in the price of cigarettes leads to a 7 percent drop in youth smoking and in sales to minority and low-income smokers.

You may be wondering why we don’t just outlaw tobacco if smoking it is so bad for people. I can think of a very good reason. Between 1919 and 1933, our federal government outlawed and tried to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. But Prohibition failed and was repealed. And it also increased lawlessness and gangsterism.

So here we are. Big tobacco companies will now spend millions of dollars on advertisements trying to convince us to vote “No” on Prop 56.

But we must constantly remind ourselves to never believe anything said by people who make big profits selling products that can make us gravely ill — or kill us.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every week. Reach Dirkx at 805-238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.