California Smokers Fuming

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California Smokers Fuming

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Smokers in New York thought they had it bad.

California looks to become the state with the highest tax in the country following a proposal by state Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson (D-Culver City) to more than triple the state's cigarette tax to $3 per pack.

If the proposal is approved, a pack of cigarettes in California could cost as much as $8, eclipsing the $7 pack in New York City. The proposal could be voted on this week, according to The Orange County Register.

"This tax is a voluntary tax. If you don't smoke, you don't pay the tax," said Wesson, who said he hoped the proposal would break a 37-day budget impasse between the majority Democrats and Republicans.

Assemblyman John Campbell (R-Irvine), minority leader on the budget, said that logic was ludicrous. If the number of smokers decreases, the state's income would too. "It's making the state's fiscal health dependent on someone's bad health," Campbell said.

Every 10-percent increase in cigarette prices yields a 5-percent drop in smoking, studies show. But there has never been an increase of this magnitude -- 245 percent -- so it's unclear exactly how smokers would react, said Mark Ibele, a state analyst.

California's most recent experience with tobacco taxes came in 1998, when voters narrowly approved increasing tobacco taxes to 87 cents per pack. After that, 20 percent of the market went underground, and the state has lost up to $300 million a year, according to the state.

ABOVE: California State Speaker of the Assembly Herb Wesson.