California lawmakers chose not to make smokers pay more for health insurance, but they may be more willing to make smokers pay more for cigarettes.
A new bill proposing to raise the tax on tobacco by $2 per pack of cigarettes cleared its first two committee votes last week in predictably partisan votes. SB 768, by Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), would raise the price of cigarettes to more than $8 a pack and generate about $1.4 billion a year. De León proposes the money be used to offset costs of medical care for tobacco-related diseases, anti-tobacco education and smoking-cessation programs.
The Senate Governance and Finance Committee approved the bill in a 5-2 vote and the Senate Committee on Health approved it 6-2. All “yes” votes were Democrats. All “no” votes were Republican.
“Taxpayers pay $3.1 billion a year to subsidize this industry,” de León told the health committee, citing an estimate for California’s annual medical costs for tobacco-related diseases and health problems.
“On a fiscal level, the price is much too high, and taxpayers have been footing the bill for much too long,” de León said.
California, which hasn’t increased taxes on tobacco since 1998, now charges $0.87 cents on each pack of cigarettes and ranks 33rd in the country in tobacco taxation. De Leon’s bill would move the state into fourth place.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that New York’s smoke-free areas will be expanded to state parks and historic sites, according to a report by Jess String for The Legislative Gazette.
The expansion will take effect in time for the 2013 peak summer season.
Violators will be liable to a fine of up to $250, plus surcharges if they fail to comply.
“Our state parks embody the rich, natural beauty that New York has to offer, and our residents should be able to enjoy them free of pollution for [sic] second hand smoke,” said Cuomo.
“Today’s announcement of the expansion of smoke-free zones in our state parks is an important step forward in ensuring New York’s families can enjoy our great outdoors smoke-free, in a healthy environment.”
String wrote that, according to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s website, the smoke-free areas did not encompass the entirety of the parks, but were limited to swimming areas, beach areas, bathhouses, concessions, pavilions, shelters, playgrounds, picnic shelters and places where educational programs were conducted.
However, outdoor historic parks were almost completely smoke-free, as were all state parks in New York City.
In an unusual move that has attracted some criticism, India’s Uttar Pradesh state government has slashed the VAT on cigarettes and cigars from 50 percent to 25 percent.
According to a report in the latest issue of the BBM Bommidala Group newsletter, the decision to reduce VAT was taken at a meeting of the state cabinet, which is hoping to halt the loss in revenue that followed an increase in VAT last year.
The level of VAT levied on cigarettes and cigars was increased in 2012 from 12.5 percent to 50 percent.
The six member countries of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) are home to about four million smokers, a number that is increasing by 150,000 a year, according to a story by Habib Toumi for the Gulf News.
Smokers within the GCC, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, consume about 50 billion cigarettes annually.
And, according to Arabi Atta Allah and Majdi Ashoor, who were described as experts with the Qatar Supreme Health Council, this consumption level meant that the GCC incurred annual health care costs of $500 million.
“According to one study, up to 50 percent of the GCC students aged between 14 and 18 smoke regularly,” they said as they gave a lecture in the Qatari capital, Doha. “Around 25 percent started puffing at cigarettes when they were between 10 and 15 years old.”
“In the Arab world, the number of smokers has been steadily increasing, reaching 70 percent among males and 25 percent among females.”
The smoking room in the domestic departure area of Thailand’s Phuket International Airport is to be closed at the end of this month, but the smoking room in the international departure area will remain open, according to a story in the Phuket News.
And this is a pattern that will be repeated throughout the country as all smoking rooms within domestic airport facilities will be closed while those in international airport facilities will be retained.
Pratueng Sornkham, director of Airports of Thailand, Phuket, said the closures followed the enforcement of a new Ministry of Health no-smoking law.
In the future, domestic flight passengers travelling through Phuket would be able to leave the terminal if they wanted to smoke.
But once they had checked in and gone through security into the departures area, they would no longer be able to indulge their habit.
The Turkish government wants to toughen the country’s laws on smoking and alcohol consumption, according to a Trend news agency story quoting a Sabah newspaper report.
The report said that a new bill would be put before parliament, though it did not indicate when that would happen.
Under the bill, smoking, already banned in enclosed public places, would be forbidden in open public spaces.
The bill would ban smoking by public transport drivers, presumably only while operating their vehicles.
And it would increase the penalties for violating smoking bans.