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Troubled Vernon.jpgA California state lawmaker is proposing a new $2-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes to pay for health-care programs.

Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has amended his Senate Bill 768 to serve as the vehicle for the tax hike.

The estimated $1.2 billion in annual revenues from the increase would go to yet-to-be-specified health programs and causes, including promoting access to care and tobacco-related health services.

"The underlying direction will be absolutely on extending health care access," said Greg Hayes, de León's communications director.

The bill, which will be in print Thursday, is backed by a coalition that includes longtime proponents of increasing cigarette taxes, such as the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society, as well as Service Employees International Union and the advocacy group Health Access California, Hayes said.

Anti-smoking advocates have struggled to persuade lawmakers and voters to raise California's 87-cent cigarette tax, even as per-pack tax rates have risen in states across the nation. By a narrow margin, voters rejected a ballot measure in June 2012 that would have enacted a $1-a-pack hike for cancer research and other programs. Efforts in the Legislature have repeatedly fallen short of the two-thirds vote needed to win approval.

Hayes said the senator hopes that Democrats' supermajority control in both houses -- as well as growing concern that smoking-related medical costs are adding to what he called the state's "institutional debt" -- will lead to a different outcome this year.

"It's not going to be a small challenge, but right now this body is one of the reasons that we face deficits," Hayes said. "It's because we are completely upside down in health care costs related to tobacco."

PHOTO CREDIT: State Sen. Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, speaks on the Senate floor on Aug. 29, 2011. Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press file, 2011



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