Hearing on “Public Health Impacts of Tobacco Use in California: Problems and Solutions”

The Conference Committee on AB2X 1 (Bonta) and SB2X 2 (Ed Hernandez) held an Informational hearing to discuss the Public Health Impacts of Tobacco Use in California and Problems and Solutions on Thursday, December 17, 2015 in Oakland, California. There were close to 100 people in attendance, constituents and heads of community and state organizations, all in support of placing a tax on tobacco and the handful of other tobacco control measures that have been introduced in the Special Session. Members of the Committee included Co-Chairs, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, Senator Ed Hernandez, Assemblymember Susan Bonilla and Assemblymember Miguel Santiago. Assemblymember Tony Thurmond, who represents Oakland attended the hearing as well.

Jim Knox, Vice President for Government Relations for the California American Cancer Society, Cancer Action Network, Dr. Claudia Alvarez, with UCLA Medical Center and Dr. Donna White Carey, Chief Medical Officer of Roots Community Health Center all spoke about the public health effects of tobacco use in California. “Prevention is always better than treatment” as stated by Dr. Donna White Carey was perhaps one of the central themes heard throughout the hearing. This panel testified to the effects of tobacco on adults and youth and on unborn babies, leading to low birth rate, pre-term, and still births.

The negative impacts of e-cigarettes on the lives of youth, in particular was also stressed during the hearing. “The popularity of e-cigarettes threatens the lives of youth” said Dr. Carey. When youth engage in smoking by use of e-cigarettes, the impact the neurotoxins have on their brain is detrimental, even more so than the impact of neurotoxins on adult brain development.

Dr. Karen Smith, Director of the California Department of Public Health presented on the findings of DPH’s report on e-cigarettes released earlier this year. “E-cigarettes threaten to erode the 25 year progress we’ve (California) made on tobacco,” said Dr. Smith. We were successful in combating the “cool factor” of smoking among youth for many years and more youth were staying away from tobacco until 2013 when e-cigarettes were first on the uprise, explained Dr. Smith.

The LAO reported that a $2 per pack increase in California’s cigarette tax would likely lead to a 7 percent to 15 percent reduction in the number of cigarettes smoked by Californians, would likely reduce the share of California high school students who smoke by one to two percentage points, and would reduce smoking during pregnancy.

In addition to strong support for a tax on tobacco, there were various solutions suggested by community advocates, including increasing renewal licensing fees for the sale of tobacco and using the money to fund tobacco cessation and public awareness on the harm of tobacco use, requiring city and urban planners to restrict the number of stores that sale alcohol and tobacco and restricting the sale of flavor tobacco, like menthol which is prevalent in the African American community.