SACRAMENTO — If Assemblyman Mark Stone has his way, Californians who want to smoke might be forced to start puffing on Lucky Strikes, Camels or other old-school, unfiltered cigarettes.
Stone, a Democrat from Scotts Valley, near Santa Cruz, is alarmed about dangers posed by discarded filtered cigarette butts to children, wildlife and the environment. They are costly to pick up and, when burned, their cellulose or plastic filter tips can trap and concentrate chemical toxins.
As a result, Stone has introduced AB 1504, which would slap a $500 fine on anyone who sells, gives or furnishes cigarettes with filters. The purpose is to combat litter, he says, because "the single largest item on beaches, waterways, gutters and storm drains is cigarette butts."
Cleaning up butts with filters costs the state Transportation Department an estimated $41 million annually, Stone says. The butts also could choke children and drive up medical costs. The American Assn. of Poison Control Centers reported 12,600 cases of children ingesting cigarettes or butts from 2006 to 2008.
Stone insists he's not out to ban cigarettes, but getting rid of filters, he concedes, is "going to be an uphill fight."
The tobacco industry is a powerful lobby and has contributed more than $800,000 to California lawmakers in the last five years, according to MapLight.org, an online group that tracks money and politics.
The 1 in 7 Californians who smoke could still get their nicotine hit from cigarettes that are unfiltered or use reusable filters, or with smokeless tobacco or electronic cigarettes, Stone suggests.
The country's biggest cigarette maker, Altria Group Inc., says it's too early to comment on Stone's bill, which was introduced Jan. 14.
But, Altria, which owns Philip Morris USA, maker of the bestselling Marlboro brand, says it has worked hard and successfully to reduce cigarette-butt litter. Philip Morris has provided funding for cigarette-butt litter prevention that has cut butt litter 48% in 100 participating communities in 2011 alone, the company says.
Stone isn't the only policymaker worried about cigarettes. Jerome Horton, chairman of the state tax-collecting Board of Equalization, is on a tear against smokes that don't result in state tax revenue. Recently, he helped crush 32 pallets of such contraband pipe tobacco, cigarettes and cigars, worth about $600,000, into a Riverside County landfill.
Frustrated Californians who can't get calls answered by the overburdened state unemployment insurance hot line are scouring the Internet for other ways to contact the Employment Development Department, or EDD, that runs it.
When searching through Google, they occasionally find the wrong EDD. Ask Fernando J. Gutierrez, whose name is often followed by "EdD," short for a doctorate in education.
"People get so desperate to get a human being they will call any name on Google that has an EDD at the end of it," Gutierrez says. "I have complained to Google to no avail."