Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants Latinos in Los Angeles to vote yes on Proposition 56, which aims to decrease the consumption of cigarettes by increasing the tax by $2 a pack.
Villaraigosa addressed his reasons alongside other community leaders in health and education at a press conference Wednesday at Los Angeles City Hall. They are concerned with decreasing the number of youth in Los Angeles who might start smoking in the future. The speakers, many of whom spoke in both English and Spanish, directed their message to LA's large Latino population.
"We're here today not because we're motivated by profit, but because we're motivated by saving lives," Villaraigosa said.
If passed, the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016, also called Proposition 56, will increase the tax on cigarettes from 87 cents to $2.87 per pack. The proposition would also increase the excise tax on other tobacco-related products. Supporters hope that the hike in price will discourage Californians from purchasing any and all tobacco-related products. If the proposition does not pass, California will remain one of the states with the lowest tax on such products.
According to the 2012 Report of the Surgeon General released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 88 percent of daily smokers had tried their first cigarette by the age of 18, and 99 percent by the age of 26. The same report stated that more than "one-half of White and Hispanic high school males" use one or more tobacco-related product.
"We need you to know that 'Yes on 56' helps our kids. 'Yes on 56' continues the movement in Los Angeles to make sure that the next generation is better off than this generation," said Monica Garcia, a Los Angeles Unified School District board member and speaker at the press conference. "Let's invest in a solution. Let's put our dollars toward making sure that we learn from all the efforts that people have made to be clear about the risks of smoking."
In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that tobacco was the leading cause of death among preventable causes and cigarette smoking was responsible for 480,000 deaths in the United States per year.
"It is killing. They do not have weapons, they do not have a gun, but they have a box of cigarettes," Martha Cota, a volunteer at American Heart Association and the founder of Latinos in Action said, referring to tobacco manufacturers. Cota spoke at the press conference in Spanish and this reporter translated her words."I invite you, the entire Latino community and the general community, to vote 'Yes on 56' because remember this is life or death," Cota said.
If the number of American youth who smoke continues to increase at the current rate, over "5.6 million of today's Americans younger than 18 years of age are expected to die prematurely from a smoking-related illness," according to the 2015 CDC report. This is equivalent to 1 in every 13 young Americans.
Policymakers estimate that Proposition 56 would raise an estimated $1.1 billion to $1.6 billion in tax revenue to be used toward Medi-Cal, the state's healthcare program for low-income residents, research related to tobacco-related diseases, and tobacco-use prevention and reduction education.
Those opposed to the proposition say that not enough of the funds would go toward anti-smoking efforts. Rather, they worry that upwards of 82 percent of the money would go toward "health insurers and wealthy special interests," according to the No on Proposition 56 campaign.
"Whether it's going to the right place or not is not the issue," City Councilmember Jose Huizar said at the press conference. "That's just confusing voters. It is going to the right place. It will help kids not start smoking. It'll treat people with the health-related illnesses of smoking."
There are current smokers, however, who are leaning toward voting no on the proposition. Sheldon Scott, a regular cigar smoker, believes the government should not have a say on what vices he spends his money on. In addition to that, he says that the price hike is too much.
"I don't want to pay any more taxes, plain and simple," Scott said.