Prop 56 Health Advocates Deliver Giant Invoice from California Taxpayers to Big Tobacco

dsc_0328In the week leading up to the election, supporters of Proposition 56 rallied across the state to call on Big Tobacco to take responsibility for the $3.5 billion burden they place on the state’s Medi-Cal program. In events from the Central Valley to Southern California to Sacramento, health advocates spotlighted the cost of tobacco-related diseases–and how Prop 56 would reduce and recoup those costs.

Prop 56 would add a $2 per pack user fee on cigarettes and raise the tax on other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Big Tobacco is entirely funding the opposition to Prop 56, claiming that it would go to “special interests,” when the money in fact goes to provide health services to low-income Californians across the state through Medi-Cal. Health Access created a giant invoice, putting a spotlight the $3.5 billion per year Medi-Cal spends treating smoking related diseases.

On Tuesday, Health Access California, along with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, joined health providers at Golden Valley Health Centers in Merced to kick-off the statewide tour with a giant health bill which includes a list of the tobacco-related conditions that our health system bears the cost of treating.

dsc_0213Funding Medi-Cal is especially important in the San Joaquin Valley which is home to six of the ten counties with the highest Medi-Cal enrollment. While Medi-Cal covers 14 million Californians statewide, a third of the state, over 50% of residents in Merced County rely on Medi-Cal for their health care.

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in California, and tobacco-related diseases kill more people than car accidents, guns, alcohol, illegal drugs, and AIDS combined. Dr. Eduardo Villarama, Regional Medical Director for Golden Valley Health Centers, shared the heartbreaking story of a 55-year-old father, a smoker since 16, who came to the clinic to be treated for a cough and was discovered to have lung cancer. He was the sole provider for a six-person household, leaving the whole family in an emotionally and financially precarious situation.

Passing Prop 56 would not only reduce smoking and prevent kids from starting to smoke, but it would also ensure that those that are sick from smoking-related diseases are given the best care possible. This point was reinforced today, when advocates in San Bernardino had their own event with the giant invoice, to discuss the importance of investing in Medi-Cal for residents of Southern California. Medi-Cal covers 40% of San Bernardino, with two-thirds of children aged 0-5 in the county covered by Medi-Cal. Prop 56 would generate over $1 billion for the program in the first year alone, filling desperately needed gaps in this underfunded program and allowing for an increase in available providers. Aurora Garcia-Barrera, an organizer for Health Access, knows firsthand how smoking can affect the health and well-being of an entire family. She grew up in a household with a parent who smoked, and her and her brother now suffer from asthma as a result. She called for raising the tobacco tax in order to discourage teen smoking, saving some of the nearly 17,000 California kids who get hooked on smoking every year (and the one-third of them will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses.)

Prop 56 benefits the dsc_0401people of California by reducing smoking, savings lives, building healthier communities, investing in the best care possible, and saving taxpayer money. Big Tobacco rakes in profits on the back of hardworking Californians, paying no price on the pressure it puts on families, taxpayers, and our health system. The tobacco industry has spent $70 million to defeat Prop 56, pummeling the airwaves with deceptive and misleading messages. It’s outrageous for the ultimate Special Interest—Big Tobacco—to run ads saying that investing money in Medi-Cal is a special interest—especially when Medi-Cal covers a third of the state. Medi-Cal isn’t a special interest, it’s the public interest.

Advocates culminated the statewide tour by delivering the giant invoice to the lobbying headquarters of Altria in Sacramento, demanding that they take responsibility for profiting at the expense of taxpayers. They locked the door in our face. It’s more important than ever that voters fight back against Big Tobacco’s lies this Election Day.

Vote YES on Prop 56 on Tuesday to stop Big Tobacco, fight cancer, protect kids, and save lives.