Military Department Backs Age 21 For Tobacco As Chance of Passage Slips
Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, canceled a vote on Senate Bill 754, which would raise Oregon’s legal age for tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21, telling The Lund Report the bill would return to the agenda “when she had 16 votes.”
The Democrats, which have a 17-13 majority, had caucused on the issue on Wednesday. They can afford to lose only one vote if the Senate Republicans line up against SB 754. The legislation to raise the tobacco age to the same as alcohol and marijuana has attracted seven Republican co-sponsors, but they are all in the House of Representatives.
Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, kicked off the session with a press conference, showcasing her desire for Oregon to join Hawaii and California in raising the smoking age. She took the stage with Republican co-sponsor Rep. Rich Vial of Wilsonville, and later organized an informational session with such heavyweights as Dr. Brian Druker, the head of the Knight Cancer Institute at Oregon Health & Science University, and Dr. Bud Pierce, an oncologist and 2016 GOP gubernatorial nominee.
Druker testified that the ages of 18 to 21 are a critical time in which people get hooked on tobacco, which kills 200,000 Americans and 6,000 Oregonians each year. Many 18-year-olds are still in high school, providing an easy opportunity to share with other adolescents and get them addicted to tobacco.
But Steiner Hayward’s efforts may run into the same old trap that other attempts to take on the powerful tobacco lobby have -- the pitfalls are not necessarily in tackling the Republicans, but conflicts of interest within her own party.
Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who controls legislation in the upper chamber, has raked in a whopping $20,000 from Altria Client Services, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris, in the past two years, a practice that continues a longstanding tradition with Courtney. The latest donation, for $5,000, came on Oct. 29.
In United States vs Philip Morris, federal district Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco company had “intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twenty-one in order to recruit ‘replacement smokers’ to ensure the economic future of the tobacco industry,” an opinion borne out by reams of internal documents, lauding the importance of establishing a business relationship with teenagers.
Aside from the GOP’s House and Senate caucuses -- which received $80,520 and $28,000, respectively, Courtney received by far the most from Altria of any single legislator, followed by his mercurial fellow Democrat, Sen. Betsy Johnson, of Scappoose, who received $8,000.
Three other Senate Democrats -- Sen. Floyd Prozanski of Eugene, Sen. Lee Beyer of Springfield and Sen. Arnie Roblan of Coos Bay -- each took $4,000.
Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli of John Day took the most of any Republican legislator, with $6,500, followed by Sen. Bill Hansell of Pendleton, with $5,500, and Sen. Jackie Winters of Salem, with $5,000. The Senate Democratic caucus took another $5,000 from Altria.
Military: Don’t Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em
On Tuesday, representatives of the Oregon Military Department testified they were working to push back on the longstanding association of men and women in uniform with smoking cigarettes.
“There’s been a long history of pro-tobacco use within the military,” said Dave Stuckey, the deputy director of the Oregon Military Department. “As the son of an Army dad, I remember back in the ‘70s, opening up C-rations, and seeing four packs of Pall Malls sitting in that compartment.”
Stuckey said he chewed tobacco for 30 years while serving in the military, but when he expressed his desire to quit he was told, “No one likes a quitter.”
“It’s a pro-culture tobacco in the military, and it needs to end,” he said.
Shawna Jepson, a health promotion officer at the Oregon National Guard, testified that 30 to 42 percent of the military smoke, which is over twice the average for the general public in Oregon. Tobacco costs the Pentagon $1.3 billion in medical costs and lost productivity each year.
“Our force is at a high risk of death and disease, not combat-related, because of tobacco,” she said.
SB 754 doesn’t have a companion bill in the House, although one could still be introduced. If just two of the five Senate Democrats who took money from Big Tobacco oppose the Senate bill, it could easily die without another appearance or a vote this session.
Chris can be reached at [email protected].