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OR Anti-Smoking Advocates Tout Cigarette-Tax Ballot Measure

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Oregon's cigarette tax rate ranks 32nd in the nation. (berkut_34/Adobe Stock)
Oregon's cigarette tax rate ranks 32nd in the nation. (berkut_34/Adobe Stock)
July 14, 2020

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Oregon would have the highest tax on a pack of cigarettes on the West Coast if a ballot measure passes in November. Anti-smoking advocates are hoping increasing the tax by $2 from its current rate of $1.33 will get more smokers to consider quitting.

Kay Graven is the former lead ambassador in Oregon for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. She began her smoking-prevention advocacy work after her father, a lifelong smoker, died in 2004.

"I don't think my dad would have started smoking if the cost was so high. They were very financially oriented, and so I think that could have had an impact on him," Graven said.

Oregon currently has the 32nd-highest cigarette tax in the country. Washington state and California have the 8th and 9th highest taxes, respectively. In February, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network committed $50,000 to this measure's campaign.

Owners of shops that sell cigarettes have voiced opposition to the measure, saying it could kill their businesses.

The measures also includes a 65% tax on vaping products. It would be the first tax on electronic cigarettes in the state. According to an Oregon Health Authority survey, youth use of e-cigarettes increased 80% between 2017 and 2019.

Graven said she started smoking cigarettes when she was 16 and quit in her 30s. If she were to start smoking as a young person today, she said it would probably be e-cigarettes, which is why this tax is so important.

"E-cigarettes would have been a lot more attractive to me because they don't smell so bad. It's easy to hide," she said. "Cigarettes were not very easy to hide even though I found a way."

Ten percent of funds from the tax would go toward health care and tobacco-control programs. It's estimated the measure would raise $160 million a year and save more than $1 billion in long-term health-care services, according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR