FACE-OFF • Kate and Lars tangle about whether taxing cigarettes is good policy or punishing smokers

By Kate Brown

Every so often, a ballot measure comes along that's an easy, win-win no-brainer. That's exactly what Measure 20 is on this month's ballot.

Measure 20 raises the state tax on a pack of cigarettes by 60 cents to help pay for cessation and prevention programs and other health care services. Some funds would go to the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program and the rest to the Oregon Health Plan.

Put aside the ugly facts about our current budget mess and the economy: This is plain old good public policy and the kind of thing Lars and Big Tobacco hate.

For starters, the measure would help put a huge dent in the $350 million the state spends per year on smoking-related illnesses Ñ in large part because approximately 33 percent of those on the Oregon Health Plan are smokers and roughly 40 percent of Oregonians under long-term care have smoking-related illnesses.

Best of all, it'll help prevent more than 15,000 children from becoming smokers Ñ and history tells us one-third of those children likely would have died prematurely from it. We know this because the last time we dedicated part of a cigarette tax increase to tobacco prevention programs, smoking among eighth-graders dropped 44 percent. At the 11th-grade level, the decrease was 30 percent.

If Measure 20 passes, the price of cigarettes still will be far below its $7.58 per-pack cost to the state in health care expenses and lost productivity. But I think those 5,000 kids would agree it's a darn good start.

Kate Brown, a state senator from Southeast Portland, has served as Senate Democratic leader since 1999. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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