Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Monday that the California Department of Justice will be accepting proposals aimed at programs that reduce tobacco usage through a $22 million tobacco grant program.
The department’s Tobacco Grant Program was first started in 2016 following the passage of Proposition 56, or the California Healthcare, Research and Prevention Tobacco Tax Act of 2016. The proposition increased per pack taxes by $2 statewide, with millions given each year to reduce tobacco use even more. Before the $22 million was announced this year, the state has distributed around $151 million in grant funding to around 330 grantees.
While many other tobacco limiting laws have been passed in the last six years, including one that raised the minimum age for buying tobacco products, except those who are active duty military, to age 21, Prop. 56 has become one of California’s primary vehicle to reduce youth use of tobacco products. Through these programs, California tobacco use has plummeted since the mid 2010’s. According to the most recent statistics, California adult tobacco use is only at 8.9% compared to 15.5% nationally, with state youth usage being at 5.4%, compared to 8.8% nationally.
“We have a responsibility to protect our children’s health and well-being,” said Attorney General Bonta when announcing the new grants Monday. “We have seen tobacco companies and retailers flout regulatory oversight in an attempt to encourage addiction among minors. Local governments are one of our first lines of defense against the proliferation of tobacco consumption among children. The California Department of Justice’s Tobacco Grant Program gives these public agencies the funding they need to keep our children healthy and hold tobacco retailers accountable.”
However, with rates continuing to shrink, many have been questioning where grant money should be going in recent years. Ads in particular have been questioned with multiple studies finding that many anti-smoking ads actually backfire, and others, at best, simply don’t work.
“They have got to do a better job at where they are putting grant money,” said Shirley Hull, an anti-tobacco spending researcher in Washington, to the Globe on Friday. “They really need to prove that the money they are using is reducing usage. Now, California’s grant money specifically goes to programs that help inform people of the tobacco buying age there, what the laws are, checking compliance by retailers, and prosecuting those who sell or market tobacco to those under the age of 21 within California. So not many ads. And that’s good, because the worry is almost always about throwing away money with them.”
“But even so there needs to be some public oversight. Whatever is chosen for the grants, citizens need to see not only where the money is going, but how successful similar programs in the past have been. You can’t just say ‘It’s going to people checking for compliance,’ or something like that. We need to see the figures of how many they have stopped or how many they caught and fined. The Attorney General here is being vague, and with $22 million on the line, we need specifics.”
Grant recipients are expected to be announced later this year. Further details by the Attorney General’s office can be found here.