Initiative would increase student aid with a dollar-a-pack tobacco tax

Students smoking outside Santa Monica High School. A tobacco tax could raise money for college aid.
(Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times)

California college students who smoke may be conflicted if asked to sign the petition for one proposed initiative.

The measure, which has been cleared by the state for signature gathering, would increase funding for student financial aid but do so by adding a dollar excise tax to a pack of cigarettes.

The state’s Legislative Analysts Office has issued a report estimating the tax would raise $800 million the first year, almost all of it ($730 million) available for aiding students at the University of California and California State University systems.


The rest would backfill money lost in other tobacco programs.

However, the higher-education advocates behind the measure are expected to come under pressure to drop their proposal in the next few weeks from powerful unions and legislators wanting to use a cigarette tax to help pay for an expansion of healthcare in California, sources say.

Either way, a tobacco tax hike is expected to be fought tooth and nail by the industry and is already under attack from Republican lawmakers, including Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar.

“Voters have already rejected the past two proposed cigarette tax hikes because they know that taxing a declining source of revenue isn’t the smartest of options,’’ Huff said in a statement. “More importantly, the Governor just passed a $50 billion tax increase to protect education and he campaigned on our college campuses, promising that this money would go to our schools.”


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