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State quits tobacco program cold turkey

General Editor
   March 26, 2003 — Oregonians are outpacing the rest of the nation in reducing tobacco use, but county and tribal Tobacco Prevention programs have been suspended in the face of statewide budget cuts.
   According to a report released March 19, by the Oregon department of Human Services, since the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program began in 1996, overall cigarette consumption has fallen by almost 30 percent, young males are chewing less tobacco and pregnant women are smoking less.
   Compared with 1996, today in Oregon there are 75,000 fewer adult smokers, 25,000 fewer youth smokers, 2,200 fewer pregnant smokers, 1.5 billion fewer cigarettes sold annually, and 60,000 fewer adults using smokeless tobacco, DHS reported.
   Nationwide, tobacco use has also declined, but only by 13 percent compared to Oregon's 30 percent, and Oregon's prevention program has been looked at as a model by other states.
   Patty Wilson, Tobacco Prevention Coordinator for Jefferson County, was one of five Oregon representatives invited to a Utah conference to give input on school prevention programs in 2001.
   "They invited teams from other states which had comprehensive tobacco prevention programs, and took our input to help create guidelines for their program," Wilson said.
   For Jefferson County, Wilson provided figures for 2003 which showed that 46 county residents die from tobacco use annually, while tobacco-related illnesses cost Jefferson County $12 million a year.
   Approximately 582 Oregon health Plan clients in Jefferson County smoke, and the state and local health care providers and hospitals bear the cost for smoking-related illnesses for this group, Wilson's report said.
   Countywide, 22 percent of adults smoke, 12 percent of adult males use smokeless tobacco (chew), 19 percent of eighth-graders smoke, 5 percent of eighth-graders use smokeless tobacco, and 23 percent of 11th-graders smoke.
   Surveys showed 83 percent of county residents believed people should be protected from secondhand smoke, yet 27 percent of residents were exposed to secondhand smoke during a typical week.
   Thirteen percent of Jefferson County's babies were born to mothers who used tobacco during pregnancy, which is an improvement over past years. Statewide, 2,000 fewer pregnant Oregon women used tobacco in 2001 than in 1996, a decline of 28 percent, or almost three times the national rate of decline.
   Typically, pregnant women who smoke have less healthy, lower birthweight babies. In its statewide report, DHS said in 2001, because fewer women smoked during pregnancy, Oregon saved over $1 million it would have had to spend on medical care for low birthweight babies.
   Funding for the Tobacco Prevention program comes from Measure 44, which raised taxes on tobacco and designated 10 percent of the new revenue for prevention.
   During the last biennium, the Jefferson County tobacco coalition received $43,800 for prevention activities, including the "Reward and Reminder" merchant education survey, the Great American Smokeout, being a Collage sponsor (to help the event be smoke-free), and anti-smoking news and radio ads.
   Despite the progress, Tobacco Prevention programs are among those being shut down as the state struggles with budget problems.
   Wilson received word that the program has been suspended until July and could possibly be cut for good.
   "The Legislature would have to override the will of voters and amend ballot measures 44 and 20, which allocate three cents a pack tobacco tax to tobacco prevention," Wilson said.