San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom has been known to diverge from the status quo in several aspects of his mayoral reign. Newsom has put San Francisco and California local government back in the national spotlight once more.

Recently, Newsom indicated proposing a new tax on cigarette purchases throughout San Francisco to the city’s Board of Supervisors. This move is not just an attempt to make San Francisco a healthier city but a more lucrative one as well.

This tax stands out as the first municipal fee of its kind in the country—making San Francisco a national guinea pig for such a tax.


The purpose of the tax exists to offset the ever-growing cost of cleanup that it takes to keep the streets clean of cigarette butts. It would add 33 cents to every pack of cigarettes sold.

Newsom said the city currently spends somewhere around $44 million a year on liter cleanup alone.
Furthermore, Newsom went on record about the health benefit the potential tax could create saying, “In general, fees help reduce the consumption and use of tobacco, and we think that will have a very beneficial public health component.”
Not everyone, however, is thrilled about Newsom’s tax idea.

Frank Lester, a spokesman for Reynolds American Inc., the nation’s second-largest manufacturer of cigarettes, told that littering is already illegal in San Francisco and adult smokers should not face a tax on an already illegal act.

“The tax seems rather punitive,” said Lester. “Adult smokers tend to range from below to moderate income levels, and many fall below the poverty line. It would be unfair to raise taxes on them, especially with federal law just recently adding a 62 cent charge on cigarette packs nationally.”

Moreover, Lester questioned if San Francisco even has a legal right to impose this sort of tax.

“San Francisco may not even be able to do this,” said Lester. “Most states generally reserve the right to do this type of taxation and not municipalities.”    

California local officials should keep close watch to how this new tax unfolds in San Francisco. With the downward economy playing a noticeable role in California, the outcome of this tax may shed light on what is to come in localities across the state.