Oregonians should reject an onslaught of cynical tactics being utilized by the tobacco industry and instead approve ballot Measure 50, which would raise the state’s cigarette tax to pay for health coverage for up to 117,000 uninsured Oregon children. The tobacco industry is spending millions of dollars — $9.2 million so far — to convince voters to reject the measure in the Nov. 6 vote-by-mail election. But what tobacco interests are trying to buy with their money is simply confusion. Their campaign attempts to obfuscate the need for children’s health care by raising legitimate-sounding, but mostly untruthful, objections to Measure 50 and the Healthy Kids Program. Voters, however, should be crystal clear about what the tobacco industry is peddling: more addiction, more disease and less health coverage for children who desperately need it. Smoking drives up health costs The 2007 Oregon Legislature referred Measure 50 to voters. It proposes to raise cigarette taxes by 84.5 cents per pack and use most of that money — 73 percent — to expand the state’s health coverage for children. The proposal would raise Oregon’s cigarette tax to about the same level as Washington state’s. The remaining funds would be used for tobacco prevention or to provide better health care for low-income or medically underserved adults. A higher cigarette tax is the most appropriate vehicle for raising these funds because of the enormous burden that tobacco addiction places on the health care system. By raising the cigarette tax, Measure 50 will create an economic incentive for people to quit smoking. Over the long term, the state will save money because it will be treating fewer tobacco-related diseases. In the meantime, the tax also will generate sufficient funding for the Healthy Kids Program. Big Tobacco an obstacle all along We recognize that one flaw with Measure 50 is the fact that it places this tax in the Oregon Constitution. But it is important for voters to remember why this measure ended up being a constitutional amendment rather than a statutory referral or a plain and simple tax increase. When the 2007 Legislature first considered the Healthy Kids Program, tobacco lobbyists put so much pressure on legislators that many Republicans refused to support either a tax increase or a more routine legislative referral to voters. Either of those options would have required a supermajority vote in Salem. Democrats then turned to the only option they had left to expand health coverage for children: voter referral of a constitutional amendment, which only needed a simple majority vote to get out of the Legislature. So now Big Tobacco is arguing that the state constitution is no place for a cigarette tax. We might agree, except for the fact that it was the tobacco industry itself that helped force lawmakers to go this route. Besides, putting this program into the constitution does offer some protection from future meddling. Higher cigarette taxes will make Oregon a healthier place — now and in the future. Voters should approve Measure 50 in the Nov. 6 vote-by-mail election.

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