Starting in January, the cheapest pack of cigarettes at Cigarettes and Cigars on G Street in Merced will be in the $5 range, according to an employee, Kirsten Weston. Currently the cheapest pack of cigarettes is $3.77, she said, and the most expensive is around $8, soon to be $10.
The majority of California voters agreed with the new parameters on increasing the tobacco tax, voting “yes” on Proposition 56 this election cycle. According to Ballotpedia, the measure won by almost 63 percent.
The tax increase will add $2 to cigarette packs and other tobacco products, going from 87 cents to $2.87. About $1 billion to $1.4 billion is estimated in tax revenue, which will mostly go toward health care funding for low-income Californians. The rest of the revenue, 13 percent, will go toward smoking prevention.
Although Weston said she voted “no” on the proposition, she expected it to pass because a lot of younger voters don’t support smoking tobacco. Smokers already pay a lot of money for cigarettes, she said, and doesn’t find the proposition fair to them.
“It’s pretty much the government taxing poor people,” Weston said. “It gets expensive and this is a real addiction.”
Weston, 22, said people who come into Cigarettes and Cigars barely are able to afford the $4 to $5 packs, and they probably won’t be able to swing adding $2 to that. Most people coming through the shop are lower-income individuals, she said.
“This is something people do and you can tax people in other ways, I feel like,” she said.
This is something people do and you can tax people in other ways, I feel like.
Kirsten Weston, Cigarettes and Cigars employee
A 23-year-old Merced resident, Peter Jhrar, bought a pack of Camel cigarettes on Saturday from Cigarettes and Cigars, and said although he voted “no” on Proposition 56, he hopes the price increase will help him quit smoking.
“Ten dollars a pack is a lot in its own.” he said. “I eventually want to quit and this might help me.”
Jhrar said a lot of people smoke because they’re “hooked,” and if people want to continue smoking, they’re going to find a way to do so.
“It’s all about willpower,” he said.
Golden Valley Health Center in Merced held a rally weeks before the election supporting the proposition, because revenue will go toward health care such as Medi-Cal. Advocates said for places such as Merced, which has the second-highest population rate on Medi-Cal in the state, passing the legislation would be beneficial to the community.
Dr. Eduardo Villarama, regional medical director for Golden Valley, said he was pleased the tobacco increase passed because he knows how damaging tobacco is for the body and how it is responsible for a lot of preventable illnesses.
Tobacco intake can make illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and respiratory problems worse, Villarama said. Sinus and ear infections are more common in children who are exposed to secondhand smoke, he said.
“The money added to the pool can create more services for patients,” Villarama said. “We need to focus on preventative measures. It’s a really big challenge to quit smoking.”
The money added to the pool can create more services for patients. We need to focus on preventative measures. It’s a really big challenge to quit smoking.
Dr. Eduardo Villarama, regional medical director for Golden Valley Health Center
Making tobacco products more expensive can add another barrier that smokers have to consider, Villarama said, hopefully leading them to a more healthier lifestyle.
“Overall it’s really about tobacco health-related illnesses,” he said.
When it comes to the business side, Mike Siegel, owner of Cigar Monkey on Canal Street in Merced, said he expects to see a drop in business until people get used to the tobacco increase. He predicted 20 percent of premium tobacco shops in the state will disappear.
“A lot of premium tobacco shop customers will turn to the internet for products,” Siegel said. “People voted in another bad law.”
Something most people don’t think about, Weston said, is how the tobacco increase can affect jobs. If her employer isn’t making enough to pay her, she said, she could potentially lose her job. A lot of customers have told her the tobacco increase may be the reason they have to quit smoking, Weston said.
“A significant amount of customers come in every day,” Weston said. “Eight out of 10 are buying cigarettes.”
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486