There's still time to do right thing
- Portland Tribune - Opinion
Oregon lawmakers have managed to create a partisan fight out of what should have been a universally supported goal: reducing the serious health effects of nicotine addiction in this state.
Both the House and the Senate split mostly along party lines in passing legislation to include restaurants, bars and bowling alleys under Oregon's indoor smoking ban. Legislators continue to fight, at least in the House, over whether to raise cigarette taxes.
Even with the bickering, the Legislature still has time to take additional steps to curb tobacco use by accomplishing two tasks before its expected June 30 adjournment:
• The House should move quickly to refer the 84.5-cents-per-pack cigarette tax increase - which would fund the Healthy Kids Plan - to voters in November.
It is partly because of Republican opposition to raising cigarette taxes that Oregon now is faced with the likelihood that the higher tax will be placed in the state constitution - further trivializing a document that's suffered significant abuse over the years from the authors of initiative measures.
However, if the only way to pay for expanded health insurance for Oregon children is for voters to consider approving a constitutionally mandated cigarette tax increase, we believe the electorate will do so.
The Senate has approved the plan; now it's up to the House.
• Both legislative chambers should change how the state taxes smokeless tobacco, which currently provides a cheap starting point for young people to become addicted to nicotine.
Between the competing proposals for raising the chewing-tobacco tax, we prefer House Bill 2968, which would increase the tax and also convert the fee - now based on a percentage of the price of smokeless tobacco - to a per-ounce tax.
The current ad valorem method of taxation has the effect of subsidizing the least expensive brands of chewing tobacco, which also happen to be the products most attractive to young buyers.
The public cost of treating tobacco-related illnesses isn't any less for those who use cheap tobacco than for those who buy the expensive stuff.
And stopping harmful addictions in any form ought to be a goal worthy of support from legislators of both parties.