October 3, 2013 – The 13-cent tobacco tax passed Wednesday afternoon by a tight margin and with unlikely opponents: the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network Great West Partnership.
The political arm of the American Cancer Society released a statement Tuesday afternoon, saying the cigarette tax is too small to reduce tobacco use and also that funds raised won't be used to reduce smoking or offset its public health effects.
“This is a step back for tobacco control in Oregon. Raising the tax this little won't influence anybody to quit,” Jason Parks, Oregon government relations director for the organization, told The Lund Report.
“The American Cancer Society supports raising cigarette taxes by $1 per pack with an equivalent increase on all other tobacco products with some of the revenue going to programs to prevent kids from starting and to help adults quit,” the statement reads.
Stephanie Tama-Sweet of the American Heart Association echoed Parks' sentiments, saying, “"The tax that passed today is too low to actually have an impact on youth initiation or help people quit smoking."
Speaking with The Lund Report before the tax package passed, Rep. Vickie Berger (R-Salem) called the cigarette tax “the easy part of a much more difficult tax package,” while acknowledging some discussions had arisen about the ramifications of a tax that could be considered regressive.
“There are philosophical differences about using tobacco taxes, which is basically a declining revenue source and a source that seen to be hardest hit on some of the least economically able people, who are also tobacco addicted,” Berger said.
Last week the Tobacco Reduction Advisory Committee approved a budget of $19.8 in tobacco reduction funding for the 2013-2015 biennium, with $4 million of that money coming from the Tobacco Master Settlement and the rest appropriated from state tobacco taxes.
That budget is substantially below what a Centers for Disease Control Report recommended Oregon spend on tobacco cessation. In addition to reducing the amount the state spends, interim committee director Luci Longoria said the committee would like to do some research into how smoking cessation funds can be used most efficiently.
The budget distributes $8.5 million to local public health departments, $1 million to tribes, $300,000 to regional equity coalitions and $1.45 million for health communications including paid ads, social marketing and technical assistance training for local programs and regional equity coalitions. Another $1.75 million would be set aside for cessation efforts such as the Oregon Quit Line, programs like Text2Quit and tobacco cessation training for traditional health workers. Currently, the state allocates just $4 million for tobacco reduction efforts.
“What we are trying to do here in Oregon is dive in a little deeper. We see the need to dive in a little deeper to see how those entities can be a little more effective in doing that work, especially considering that they have the lion's share of resources,” said Longoria, talking about local public health departments.
Chuck Tauman of the Tobacco Trial Lawyers' Association expressed concerns about the legal issues involved with smoking reduction efforts on tribal land in Oregon, including a proposal to make casinos smoke-free, which has the potential to be a difficult legal and cultural issue.
“There has been, again, in individual tribes, a lot of progress made in those areas and also some specific kinds of assistance that might be needed,” said Longoria.
“When you were talking about casinos, I thought, the Pendleton roundup is now smoke-free,” said Karen Fox Ladd, public health administrator at the Columbia County Public Health Department. “Who thought that would have happened 10 years ago?”
Gov. John Kitzhaber's budget for the 2013-15 biennium – signed before Wednesday's vote – includes $487.2 million in cigarette and other tobacco taxes, most of that earmarked for other healthcare spending. Most of the funds from the new cigarette tax will go toward community mental health spending.
Christen McCurdy can be reached at [email protected].