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RB BOE Tobacco CigaretteTax Stamps.JPGCalifornia had one of the nation's first state-financed anti-smoking programs, but it is now being criticized by a national health coalition for its relatively low level of spending.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says in a new nationwide report that California ranks 22nd in the nation by spending just 15.8 percent of what the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends on smoking prevention.

The state's spending on anti-tobacco programs, $70 million a year, is financed entirely by a special increase in cigarette taxes in 1999. The coalition is critical of California and other states for not spending more from a massive, multibillion-dollar national settlement of a lawsuit against tobacco companies. The state is now receiving $1.7 billion a year from that settlement but, like most other states, is using the money for general purposes.

The Tobacco-Free Kids group, a coalition of health and children's advocacy groups, contends that 13.8 percent of California's high school students smoke. However, smoking has plummeted in California in recent years to the second lowest level of any state, 12.8 percent of adults. Only Utah, at 9.8 percent, is lower.

The issue is likely to be rejoined next year because a measure has qualified for the June primary ballot that would increase California's cigarette tax by $1 per pack to finance cancer research and anti-smoking programs.

"Next year, California voters can make their state a leader again in the fight against tobacco by approving the California Cancer Research Act," said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Increasing the cigarette tax will reduce smoking, especially among kids, while providing much needed funds for cancer research and tobacco prevention. This initiative will save lives and save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs."

PHOTO CREDIT: Two packs of cigarettes are stamped with California tax stamps. Sacramento Bee file, 2006 / Randall Benton



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