MY VIEW: Legislature must act to reduce tobacco use and health costs

In 1998, 46 states negotiated the Master Settlement Agreement with major tobacco companies to recover the states’ tobacco-related health care costs and to protect children from the dangers of tobacco.

Oregon was one of those 46 states. Since then, Oregon has received more than $1 billion in MSA payments and has spent the bulk of that revenue on paying off debt or on nontobacco-related services.

Yet tobacco is still the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon. Of the nearly 30,000 Oregonians who die every year, more than 22 percent of these deaths can be attributed to tobacco use. That’s equivalent to 129 school buses full of children whose lives could be saved.

The fact is that tobacco disproportionally harms communities that are disadvantaged and disenfranchised, such as Native Americans, African-Americans, the mentally ill, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community, and the young. Our neighborhoods are targeted by the tobacco industry.

There also are more tobacco retailers, larger tobacco ads and more tobacco discounts and promotions in lower-income communities than in higher-income communities. Too little has been done to protect our communities.

For the first time in 10 years, state legislators have an opportunity to allocate funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement toward health and wellness efforts, and fulfill the MSA’s objectives: prevent and reduce tobacco use, especially among children and those communities targeted by the tobacco industry, and lessen the financial toll of tobacco on Oregon.

Investing in prevention and wellness efforts is an investment in future generations of Oregonians by reducing health care costs associated with tobacco use. Tobacco costs Oregon $1.25 billion in annual direct medical expenditures. Smokers are much more likely than nonsmokers to have chronic diseases such as diabetes, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Oregon is in a position to lead by example and fulfill the promise of the 1998 settlement agreement by protecting our children and our communities from the harms of tobacco use. In 2013-15, Oregon has access to $120 million in tobacco settlement funds. Now is the time to take bold action and dedicate these funds toward the following priorities:

• $73 million for health transformation to fund coordinated care organizations and community health initiatives to improve health outcomes and leverage federal matching funds.

• $35 million to children’s health by investing in physical education and school-based health care centers to reduce chronic illness, improve mental and oral health, and encourage healthy behaviors.

• $12 million to reduce smoking by investing in proven tobacco prevention and education programs.

The best ways to ensure healthy outcomes for all Oregonians are to change the environments where we live, work, learn and play. We are counting on members of the Legislature to make smart investments that focus on improving the health of our communities.

Please urge our elected officials to do the right thing by visiting to learn more.

Brett Hamilton is executive director of the Tobacco-Free Coalition of Oregon Inc., and Midge Purcell is the

director of advocacy and public policy for the Urban League of Portland. Both are members of the Healthy Oregon Partnerships for Equity oalition steering committee.

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