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OPINION: The tobacco industry gets kids hooked on vaping products. We need to pass a tax on those products.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gil MunozThis has been a very difficult time for our community and for the people we serve at the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Foundation.

COVID-19 has disportionately affected Latinx people who live in Washington County, with infection rates three times higher than the general population and increased job loss due to the pandemic shut downs. Now, wildfires have decimated our state and unsafe air quality has created extremely dangerous situations for our older and most vulnerable patients.

Through it all, we have been there for our patients, but we cannot do it without the Oregon Health Plan, which provides health coverage for 1 in 4 Oregonians, including more than 400,000 kids. Too many lives are counting on it — demand has increased 10% so far this year as the economy dipped due to COVID-19.

It is essential that the Oregon Health Plan have stable funding today and in the future. That is why we support Ballot Measure 108, which will be on the ballot in November.

Measure 108 provides essential funding for the Oregon Health Plan by creating the first tax on nicotine vapes in Oregon, and by increasing the tax on tobacco.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Serena CruzToday, Oregon doesn't tax nicotine vapes one penny and we have one of the lowest cigarette taxes in the country. Meanwhile, we have a youth vaping epidemic among high schoolers, with one in four 11th-graders reporting they have used a nicotine vape.

The tobacco industry knows what healthcare experts know: getting kids hooked on cheap vapes early is the best way to get them hooked on cigarettes. In fact, the Journal of American Medicine reports that kids who vape are three times more likely to start smoking cigarettes.

It is unconscionable that kids can get their hands on candy-flavored vapes sold in local convenience stores that cost as little as 99 cents. But studies also show that young people are much less likely to use vapes or tobacco if prices are higher.

Increasing the vape and tobacco tax will prevent over 19,000 people from starting to smoke and nearly 12,000 premature deaths.

Measure 108 will finally put a tax on vapes and will bring Oregon's cigarette tax in line with Washington and California. And those dollars will go to good use, not only funding the Oregon Health Plan at a time when demand is increasing, but also bringing in more money for local, culturally specific tobacco prevention and cessation programs.

Measure 108 was drafted by a bipartisan committee, and it is clear that the dollars must be used for these purposes and cannot be spent on anything else.

We hope you will join us. Make a plan to vote by November 3rd, and vote yes on Measure 108. Learn more at YesOn108.org.

Gil Muñoz is chief executive officer of the Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center, which is based in Cornelius and serves residents of Washington and Yamhill counties. Serena Cruz is executive director of the Virginia Garcia Foundation.


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