Higher taxes could curb teen smoking
Opportunities to blunt a public health crisis are rare. But our legislators have that opportunity right now.
The epidemic I'm talking about is driven by tobacco, laced with the powerful addictive substance nicotine. Not many products can claim to kill more than half the people who use it when used correctly.
Indeed, the tobacco epidemic has been tapering off — after companies confessed they knew their product was deadly. But the tobacco industry has regrouped and targets people in low-income areas, communities of color and tribal populations, and even children.
Now, legislators in Salem are deciding whether to adopt a tool that's been proven to be effective in reducing and even preventing nicotine addiction, saving the costs of chronic illnesses, lung cancer and death. They need to hear that we support a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes and taxes on E-cigarettes.
Here's why you should:
Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable deaths in Oregon. It totals more deaths than obesity, alcohol, motor vehicle and firearms accidents, and illegal drug use combined.
Cigarettes kill more than 8,000 Oregonians each year. Tobacco costs Oregonians — for medical expenses, lost productivity and early death — over $2 billion each year.
While smoking rates have been cut in half in the past 20 years, the tobacco industry has been remarkably successful in tempting nonsmokers with E-cigarettes, which are manufactured with high nicotine levels and infused with flavors like mango and mint.
Rates of "vaping," that is using E-cigarette vaporizers, nearly doubled among high school students from 2017 to 2018. This is insidious because nicotine impairs brain development in children.
Unlike other teen fads, outgrowing vaping will be difficult, and for some impossible, because with the high levels of nicotine they contain, children become addicted quickly. A new generation of addicts ensures a billion-dollar future for the tobacco industry.
But a tax? In Oregon?
I know. But study after study has demonstrated that when the price of tobacco rises, the number of users declines.
The American Lung Association calculates that for every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes, consumption is cut by 4 percent in adults and 7 percent in children.
In Oregon, that means 19,000 kids would be prevented from smoking and 31,300 adults would quit.
But the American Lung Association gave Oregon a failing grade on the level of state tobacco taxes. At $1.33 a pack, Oregon's tax is less than half that of Washington state.
E-cigarettes, the fastest growing tobacco product in Oregon, are not taxed at all in Oregon, but they should be. This would be effective because kids are very "price sensitive."
Finally, it's about money. In Oregon, raising taxes will drive down the cost of treating expensive and deadly illnesses — emphysema, cancer, heart disease — caused by smoking.
Additionally, revenues raised will provide a stable source of funding for the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid). For low-income families in Oregon, the Oregon Health Plan is critical for their health and well-being, making it possible for them to continue to be productive members of our community.
So please call, write, email or visit your legislator and tell them you support a higher price on tobacco products to save lives, especially the lives of our children and at-risk communities.
Dr. Ann Turner is a retired physician who served as medical director/co-director at Virginia Garcia Medical Health Center in Washington County
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