The New York Times' coverage of a proposed $1-per-pack tobacco tax increase in California raises an incongruity with the state's reputation as tough on tobacco: It has, for now, some of the cheapest cigarettes in the country. The state that led the nation in banning smoking in bars in 1998 now ranks 33rd in cigarette price, according to a list compiled by Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. It charges a tax of $0.87 a pack, and cigarettes retail for an average of $5.71 a pack. Compare that with New York, the nation's most expensive smoking state, which charges a tax of $4.35 a pack, and packs retail on average for $10.14.
It's been 14 years since California raised taxes on cigarettes, The Times' Adam Nagourney points out, but that may change on Tuesday when Californians vote on the state measure to raise the tax in order to fund cancer research. Naturally, the tobacco industry is fighting hard to prevent that, dropping $47 million in ads opposing the tax and outspending its opponents by four to one. The blitz is working, too. As the Associated Press notes, "The Public Policy Institute of California found that support for the initiative dropped from 67 percent in March to 53 percent by late May." If the tax passes, those on both sides of the issue think it could lead a nationwide wave of similar tax increases, so the stakes here are high for both the tobacco industry and its detractors.