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    California Group Pushes for Tobacco Tax on 2006 Ballot

    If approved, tax would boost price of a pack of cigarettes by $2.60.

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A group of hospital administrators and child health care advocates is planning a drive to put an initiative on next November's ballot to increase the tobacco tax nationwide, reported www.news10.net.

    If approved, it would boost the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $2.60, bringing up the total average cost of a pack of cigarettes to $6.50, according to the report.

    The initiative combines tobacco tax measures from the California Hospital Association and the American Cancer Society. The new campaign includes the American Lung Association of California, the American Heart Association and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, among others, the Associated Press reported.

    Advocates estimate the tax increase would raise an estimated $2.27 billion a year and would be used to pay for emergency room services, healthcare for uninsured children, nursing education, cancer screening, prevention and research and tobacco education and cessation, according to the reports.

    Because the extra per-pack tax would be expected to curb sales, the proposal allots $159 million a year to offset any loss of revenue to programs supported by an initiative approved by voters last year. That measure added a tax of 50 cents a pack to fund early childhood education, AP reported.

    The initiative also would give money to local law enforcement to enforce tobacco control laws, which critics said would be needed to offset an expected rise in black-market cigarettes.

    Raising the tax by such a large amount might lead some people to quit smoking, Craig Fishel, spokesman for North Carolina-based R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., told the AP.
    "But more likely what you have is people looking for other means to get their cigarettes, usually from other states or on Indian reservations where excise taxes aren't enforced," he said in the report.

    The increased revenue that the initiative's supporters are touting also would be short-lived, Larry McCarthy, president of the California Taxpayers Association, an anti-tax group, told AP.

    "If people can't afford to smoke, they'll quit or buy illegal cigarettes, reducing the amount of taxes collected," he said.

    The tax is projected to raise $2.7 billion annually if cigarette sales remain at the current level, but the higher price is expected to cut sales by about 8 percent a year, supporters said in the report.

    Tobacco companies have not taken an official stand on the proposed tax increase yet, but a spokesman for Philip Morris USA told The Sacramento Bee his company would view this proposed tax increase as excessive.

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