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Re-instate tobacco prevention effort


   Every day in Oregon 18 people die from tobacco use, 20 kids start smoking, and tobacco companies spend $321,370 on advertising -- yet Oregon is spending nothing on tobacco prevention.
   Oregon had a successful Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP), but last March the program was shut down.
   The program was begun in 1997 after the passage of Ballot Measure 44, which raised the cigarette tax and dedicated three cents per pack to tobacco prevention. But the Oregon Legislature took money out of the tobacco prevention fund, created by voters, and moved it to the general fund to help cover the state's budget deficit.
   Here in Jefferson County, the action effectively shut down our Tobacco Prevention Coalition and took away one of the few resources for tobacco users who want to quit -- the Oregon Quit Line.
   Before the legislature suspended the program, TPEP brought approximately $70,000 per year to Jefferson County for tobacco prevention activities. Now, we get nothing. And it's still uncertain if the program will be reinstated for the next biennium, and if so, at what level.
   Right now in Salem, legislators are negotiating funding for a slew of state programs. Budget proposals currently under review would once again raid the tobacco prevention fund, leaving the TPEP funded at only 40 percent of its voter-mandated amount.
   TPEP was passed by voters not once, but twice. Oregonians know that preventing kids from using tobacco, and helping tobacco users quit is important. Smokers pay $1.28 per pack in taxes, and only 3 cents of that had been going back to smokers through TPEP to help them quit and prevent kids from starting to smoke.
   Ending or reducing funding for this program flies in the face of Oregon voters. Twice, Oregon voters passed ballot measures to support the TPEP, and now the legislature is taking that money away to fill gaps in the general fund.
   What's more perplexing is that the legislature cut this program even though it ends up saving the state money. The program is a wise investment for Oregon's economy. Its success will save $20 million for the Oregon Health Plan in the next biennium alone. A reduction in tobacco prevention translates into higher medical costs. And it is the taxpayers who will bear this burden.
   You would not think we would be quibbling over three cents per pack, but we are. The legislature should honor Oregon voters and the health of its citizens by putting all three cents per pack towards the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program.
   TPEP must be fully-funded, not only because that is what voters intended, but because it saves lives, saves money, and is the right thing to do.