Legislators Tap Tobacco Prevention Account to Fill Budget Gaps
March 15, 2012 -- Facing budget cuts, legislators reduced the amount of money going toward tobacco education and prevention before they adjourned, which set a dangerous precedent, according to advocates.
“Tobacco is one of the major cost drivers to the (healthcare) system,” said Brett Hamilton, executive director of the Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon. “I recognize that Oregon, like the rest of the country, is struggling with the global economic recession and is facing numerous budget challenges for 2011-13.
But, the disproportionate cut (to the TURA account) is very short sighted. Legislators are giving lip service to prevention.”
Hamilton was referring to the Tobacco Use Reduction Account which funds the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Education Program. Legislators diverted $1.5 million from that account into the state’s general fund, which represented a 9 percent cut. At the same time, other state programs only endured a 3.5 percent cut.
“Diverting funds out of TURA to offset the General Fund violates voter trust and sets a dangerous precedent,” according to a fact sheet created by a group of tobacco prevention advocates, including the group that Hamilton represents.
Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) said he does believe prevention is important. “We do need more money in the tobacco account. We need transformation (of the healthcare system). But in a tough budget year, the tobacco account suffered. There are a lot of things that suffered, but I think we (the legislature) did a pretty good job.”
So what will the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program do without $1.5 million in its budget?
"Like other state programs in these tough budget times, the Tobacco Prevention and Education program will be looking at how to prioritize services,” said Patty Wentz, spokesperson for the Oregon Health Authority. “At this point we don't have more specifics but will be working with stakeholders to continue providing important tobacco prevention services in the most efficient way possible."
Since the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program got under way in 1996, it’s been effective in helping Oregon enjoy significant decreases in tobacco use and tobacco-related illness and death. For example, smoking has declined 54 percent among Oregon’s 8th graders and 46 percent among 11th-graders.
But even with these successes a Surgeon General report released on March 8 said that too many young people are still becoming regular smokers.
“Unfortunately, the states have been going backwards,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in response to the report. “In the past four years, the states have cut funding for tobacco prevention programs, including mass media campaigns by 36 percent ($260.5 million). States are spending less than two percent of the revenue they collect from the tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes on these life-saving programs. Recent studies show that these programs not only reduce smoking and save lives, but also save money by reducing tobacco-related health care costs. One study showed that in the first 10 years of its program, Washington State saved $5 in hospitalization costs alone for every $1 spent.”
According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control Report, in 2007, Oregon's funding for tobacco control was 11.1 percent of the recommended level; funding to the TURA account has decreased since then.
Oregon is ranked 28th with a tax of $1.18 per pack of cigarettes. Washington State is ranked is 5th with a tax of $2.025 per pack. Oregon decreased its tobacco tax by 10 cents per pack in 2003 and is the only state to reduce its tobacco tax in the last 15 years.
“A lot of people think the issue (tobacco) is done,” Hamilton said. “The reality is it’s not a done issue. We’ve put a lot of years and money into this fight and it’s not the time to divest now.”
In 1996, Oregon voters passed Ballot Measure 44, which increased the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $0.30 to $0.68 and established funding through the Tobacco Use Reduction Account for prevention and education programs designed to reduce cigarette and tobacco use. Ten percent of the new tax revenue was dedicated to the Department of Human Services for the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program.
In 2002, the last time Oregon increased its cigarette tax, Oregonians voted again to dedicate a portion of increased cigarette tax revenue to the Tobacco Use Reduction Account. However, the following year the increase was allowed to sunset. The last action taken on Oregon’s cigarette tax has been a decrease of 10 cents in 2003. The TURA account receives 3 cents per every pack of cigarettes, while 87 cents goes to support the OHP, while cities, counties and public transit receive the remainder.
According to the report, Oregon Tobacco Facts and Laws, published in 2011 by the Oregon Department of Human Services, tobacco costs Oregonians nearly $2.4 billion each year in direct medical expenditures and indirect costs due to lost productivity and premature death. For those working in the public health arena, cutting funds from tobacco prevention programs to shore budget gaps in other areas is short-sighted especially considering the expensive consequences.
For more information visit: http://www.lung.org/associations/states/oregon/assets/protect-tpep-fact-sheet.pdf
Image for this story appears courtesy of The Oregonian.