A measure introduced on Wednesday in the California Senate would raise the cigarette tax in the state by $2 a pack. The hike supporters said would help to curb the number of smoking deaths, but critics said it would place more needless burden on small business and the consumer.

Richard Pan a state senator from Sacramento introduced the new distribution tax that would also apply to popular the electronic cigarette.

If the measure is approved, it would be the first tobacco tax increase in California since 1998. The state’s current tax per pack is 87 cents and far below those in other states.

The average across the nation is $1.60 a pack and in New York, it is $4.35 a pack.

A poll released on Wednesday found that the registered voters of California favored the per pack $2 tax increase by a vote of 67% to 30%. The poll was a survey of 1,555 voters and its sampling margin of error was a plus or minus 2.6%.

If the measure is approved the hike in taxes would raise what is estimated to be more than $1.5 billion in just the first year for the state health services for families with low income, medical research that is tobacco related and programs for anti-smoking.

The bills said that 40,000 people in California die annually from illnesses related to tobacco. Proponents, including the American Lung Association and the California Medical Association argue it would succeed in lowering tobacco use as well as save California some of the billions of dollars it spends each year for illnesses related to tobacco.

Opponents of the measure argue the state does not need another increase in taxes on distributors of tobacco as it is still recovering from the deep recession.

The legislation was introduced in a special session on healthcare with a number of other measures related to tobacco.

Approval requires a two-third majority by both California chambers and many lawmakers from the Republican Party said they were opposed to increases in taxes.

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