Tobacco Industry Puts Profits Before Kids in Defeating Oregon Ballot Initiative

Statement of William V. Corr, Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Nov. 7 2007

Washington, D.C. — By telling $12 million worth of lies, the Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds tobacco companies have again protected their profits at the expense of children by defeating a ballot initiative to increase Oregon’s cigarette tax and fund health care for children. The tobacco companies will profit by selling more cigarettes, while Oregonians will pay a terrible price with more kids addicted to tobacco, more lives lost and more kids without health care.

Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds opposed this initiative because they know that increasing the cigarette tax is one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among children, and they also know that the public strongly supports increasing the cigarette tax. These tobacco companies knew they couldn’t win by arguing against the cigarette tax increase, so they spent a record $12 million – $24 for every vote – to change the subject and deceive the voters of Oregon. In fact, the tobacco companies made this election about anything but the cigarette tax increase, which is the one issue they truly cared about.

Throughout the campaign, media reports regularly exposed the industry’s deceptive tactics, including the creation of an industry-funded front group – Oregonians Against the Blank Check; RJR’s distribution of a mass-mailed letter that appeared to come from a first-grade teacher but was mailed from the office of the company’s lobbyist; and false claims in TV ads. The tobacco companies’ ads falsely claimed that the money raised would not be spent on children’s health care and manufactured controversy about amending the Oregon Constitution despite the fact it has similarly been amended many times (and the tobacco companies themselves have proposed constitutional amendments in other states). The $12 million spent by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds more than doubled the previous record for an Oregon ballot initiative and was nearly four times what proponents of the initiative spent.

Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds should be held accountable for the high cost in health, lives and money that the people of Oregon will pay. Because this measure was defeated, 29,000 more kids will become smokers, 13,000 lives will be lost to tobacco-caused disease, and Oregon will pay $662 million more in long-term health care costs. In addition, more than 100,000 deserving Oregon children will go without the health coverage Measure 50 would have provided.

The Oregon outcome does not change the fact that the public strongly supports increasing tobacco taxes. National and state polls across the country show overwhelming support for tobacco tax increases – support that extends across party lines, from smokers and non-smokers alike, throughout all regions. Since Jan. 1, 2002, 44 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have increased their cigarette tax rates more than 75 times – more than doubling the national average cigarette tax from 43.4 cents to $1.09 a pack. Increasing federal and cigarette taxes remains one of the most effective ways to reduce smoking, especially among kids, and the public will continue to support it.

 

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