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Oregon Vote to Increase Cigarette Taxes is a Win for Kids and Taxpayers

Statement by William V. Corr Executive Vice-President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
September 18, 2002

Washington, DC — Oregon's kids and taxpayers were the big winners Tuesday as the state's voters overwhelmingly approved Ballot Measure 20 to increase the state cigarette tax by 60 cents a pack. The new revenue will help fund the Oregon Health Plan and restores $2 million in Fiscal Biennium 2001-2003 for the state's tobacco prevention program that was cut during this year's legislative session. With this one-two punch of prevention spending and a cigarette tax increase, Oregon can look forward to reducing smoking among both kids and adults, saving lives, and saving money for taxpayers by reducing smoking-caused health care costs. The 64 percent to 36 percent vote also shows once again that cigarette tax increases are a win-win-win solution for states across the country – a health win, a fiscal win, and a political win.

Higher cigarette taxes have been proven to reduce smoking – especially among kids. Oregon can expect a 60 cents per pack tax increase to prevent some 15,000 kids alive today from becoming smokers, save 1,800 Oregonians from smoking-caused deaths, and produce $450 million in long-term health care savings.

However, to achieve a sustained, long-term reduction in smoking, Oregon must also further increase funding for a comprehensive, statewide tobacco prevention program. Even with the added revenue from the new cigarette tax, Oregon in FY2003 will be spending only 53 percent of the minimum amount that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the state spend on tobacco prevention (Oregon is scheduled to spend $11.25 million, while the CDC recommends $21 million). Oregon will receive $313 million in revenue from cigarette taxes and the state tobacco settlement in the coming year. Surely the state can spend just 6.7 percent of this amount to meet the CDC's recommendation for spending on tobacco prevention.

Oregon has shown the nation that tobacco prevention works. The state's pioneering program reduced smoking rates by 44 percent among eighth graders and 30 percent among 11th graders since 1996. However, experience in other states has shown that this progress can quickly be reversed if funding is not sustained. If Oregon does maintain its commitment to tobacco prevention, it can look forward not only to further reductions in smoking, but to saving lives and saving money as well. Studies show California, which started the nation's oldest tobacco prevention program in 1990, has saved tens of thousands of lives by reducing smoking-caused birth complications, heart disease, strokes and lung cancer. And the best programs are saving up to $3 in health care costs for every dollar spent on the programs.

Tobacco's toll in Oregon is devastating – 20 percent of 11th graders currently smoke, and 8,900 more kids become regular, daily smokers every year, one-third of whom will die prematurely. Smoking-caused health care costs Oregon and its taxpayers $871 million a year. If it maintains its commitment to tobacco prevention, Oregon can reduce this terrible toll.

Oregon becomes the twentieth state to have increased its cigarette tax in recent months, joining Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and Washington State. These measures have been approved by governors and legislatures of both political parties, as well as by voters in Washington and Oregon, underscoring the broad political support for cigarette tax increases.