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Yes on Measure 108 to increase tobacco taxes

Smoking tobacco is bad for your health. No one disputes that. “Vaping” nicotine may or may not be less damaging than smoking tobacco, but it’s every bit as addictive. Young people are drawn to vaping because they believe it is less harmful, it doesn’t leave the odor of tobacco smoke, and it comes in candy flavors.

Ballot Measure 108 would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $2 a pack, double the tax on cigars to $1 each, and tax nicotine inhalant cartridges and devices such as e-cigarettes for the first time, at a rate of 65% of the wholesale price.

That last provision is the best reason to vote for Measure 108. The Oregon Health Authority reported an 80% increase in youth vaping between 2017 and 2019. The legislative committee appointed to advocate for Measure 108 says a quarter of Oregon 11th-graders have consumed nicotine vapes in the past year. And national statistics show teenagers who vape are three times more likely to become cigarette smokers than their peers who don’t.

Increasing the price of vape products is the best way to discourage use. The measure exempts approved tobacco cessation products that use vaping, so adult smokers trying to quit that way would not be penalized. Marijuana vaping products are taxed separately and are also exempt from this measure.

All the usual arguments about tobacco taxes still apply: If increasing the tax causes more people to quit, tax revenue will decline. But that’s the point. If every smoker stopped tomorrow, the cost savings from not treating smoking-related illnesses would be substantial, and employers would benefit from fewer sick days, which smokers tend to take more often than their nonsmoking colleagues.

Still, Measure 108 is estimated to generate $331 million in the first two years, 10% of which would go to tobacco cessation programs — three times what the state spends now. The other 90% would go to the Oregon Health Plan, which provides health care for low-income Oregonians. What state officials should not do is count on that estimated revenue every two years, because it is likely to decrease if the tax increase has the intended effect of prompting more smokers to quit.

Oregon’s existing tobacco taxes rank 32nd among all states and the District of Columbia, so there is plenty of room to increase them. If the measure passes, the state would rank sixth nationally.

If the measure succeeds in reducing the number of Oregonians who use tobacco — and especially youths — it will benefit everyone. If the tax revenue declines over time, that’s not a drawback.

We recommend a yes vote on Ballot Measure 108.

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