Local smokers and business owners are bracing for a $2-per-pack tax hike on cigarettes set to kick in today when the provisions of California Proposition 56 go in effect.
Proposition 56, or the Tobacco Tax Increase Initiative, passed in November with approximately 64.4 percent of the vote, compared to 35.6 percent voting no.
In anticipation of Saturday’s tax increase, which will increase the tax per pack of cigarettes to $2.87 from the current tax of .87 cents, local gas station, smoke shop and liquor store owners say they have experienced an unpredictable procession of tobacco customers before the current prices go up in smoke.
Rab Sabe, an employee at Sierra Smoke n’ Vape on Stockton Road, said that he has seen many customers visiting the store to stock up on cigarettes in order to save money before the tax increase.
“This evening we will close the door, then in the evening we will change all the prices before tomorrow,” he said.
Many of the customers have been changing their nicotine ingestion strategies too, he added, opting to purchase mechanical vapor pipes or bags of tobacco to roll their own cigarettes. He had one woman interested in purchasing 90 cartons, or 900 packs of cigarettes, but declined to put in the order when she wouldn’t agree to down payment.
“A lot of people told me they are going to quit, some to reduce, for others it doesn’t matter to them. It depends,” Sabe said.
Proponents of Proposition 56 touted the goal of diminishing tobacco use throughout the state, hoping that the tax hike would deter new smokers or motivate regular smokes toward avenues to quit. The tax is expected to increase state revenue by about $1.3 billion dollars, which will be allocated to Medi-Cal, California Department of Public Health tobacco-use abatement programs, state law enforcement and administrative expenses for the California State Board of Equalization, said the California Legislative Analyst’s Office.
As a part of the proposition, electronic cigarette products such as “vapes” are now categorized with other nicotine products such as chewing tobacco or cigars, and will be taxed at 27.3 percent of the wholesale cost.
On July 1, non-cigarette nicotine products such as cigarillos, chewing tobacco, loose tobacco and even vaping juice will also experience a tax increase.
California also raised the legal age to purchase cigarettes from 18 to 21 in a law that took effect on July 9, 2016.
Sonora resident Chris Neves, 51, was inside the Valero Corner Store gas station on South Washington Street to purchase two packs of cherry-flavored Skoal, a chewing tobacco, and acknowledged that the tax hike had forced him to reconsider his reliance of tobacco products.
“I’m going to quit smoking. I’m not going to pay an extra two dollars a pack.”
A smoker for 30 years, he said, he bought a cartoon a week ago in anticipation of the price increase. “It is what it is. It’s the law. Did I vote for it? No. But the people have spoken.”
Gold Country Gas manager Ken McLaughlin, 55, said from his regular tobacco customers, he has heard mostly “complaints.”
“That’s the biggest thing on it. Another tax, another hike,” he said. “About half of them say they’re going to quit when it goes up and the other half have already quit.”
Many have been considering strategies to outmaneuver the tax hike, such as asking for smoking abatement nicotine products such as gum and patches, or downloading phone apps and using coupons found in packs of cigarettes to reduce the cost.
Other business owners said that the market will be unpredictable immediately following the tax increase, but considering the physical reliance engendered in regular users, they expect customers to return.
Restano Way Liquor owner Sunny Raj, 47, said that about 25 percent of his customers have expressed concerned about the tax increase.
Though many people committed to quitting, he said, “I don’t know how many people are going to implement on it. People get paid today. But I’m expecting it’s going to go down for a little while.”
The County Pit Stop manager Erin Hesler, 23, said some customers weren’t even aware of the tax, though one person visited the shop to “stock up” before Saturday.
Despite a brief drop in tobacco sales, she said she believes that customers would eventually return.
“The addiction will kick back in.”