Don't buy the tobacco industry's spin.

By Bill Penny of Portland, Oregon. Bill is the founder of Racing for Tobacco Free Kids, advocating for motor sports without tobacco sponsorship. He was described in 2001 by Willamette Week as "the anti-Marlboro Man".

There should be no debate about Measure 50, but then the tobacco industry wouldn't be the tobacco industry if they were not very good at what they do. I spent five years as an anti-tobacco activist, walking the halls of Congress, meeting with Justice Dept. officials, as well as anti-tobacco presidents and CEO's at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Legacy Foundation's Truth ad campaign. Not to boast, but I do know of what I speak. And to hear some of those that I respect for their intellect regurgitate tobacco industry propaganda, I have to shake my head in reverence for just how good the industry is at deceit and obfuscation.

The tobacco industry are the consummate winners. They have an incredible knack for dodging punches, manipulating policy, and turning negatives into positives. What would you expect from the industry that basically invented all modern advertising as we know it? They never really lose, not only because they are the best at playing the game, but also because they are in it for the long-haul.

Much is made of the fact that Measure 50 will amend our Constitution, and I agree that this is regrettable, but does anyone know the reason why? It's because that's the way the tobacco industry wanted it.

Since too many of our more conservative politicians in Salem are on the tobacco industry's payroll, this legislation couldn't be passed as a statute. Knowing that they couldn't completely block this policy-shift being driven forward by the Dems, the industry encouraged their stooges in the legislature to force the measure to be referred to the voters as an amendment to the Constitution. After all, that would be the best way to fight it, right? So if you're upset to vote for Measure 50 as an amendment, just remember to blame the tobacco industry.

Perhaps you're alarmed at ominous pie-graphs on your television screen that depict that the vast majority of Measure 50 funds will go to administration and bureaucracy, and not to kids? If so, you should know that the figures on these graphs are absolutely true! Well...at least they are for a year or so. Once the administration is up and running these numbers will completely swing in the other direction. But the ad-people at the tobacco industry didn't tell us that, did they? Those rascals!!!

So the question becomes whether it is appropriate to tax smokers to pay for children's health care and the answer is: you bet your last Camel it is!

In 1998 the tobacco industry settled with the states in 50 lawsuits when the states' Attorneys General, most notably Michael Moore of Mississippi, pointed out that it was the taxpayer who had to pay for tobacco-related illness and death in cases covered under Medicaid and Medicare. The taxpayer had not chosen to smoke, yet paid for the damage done to the health care system. A tobacco-related illness and death can often cost over one million dollars. 450,000 tobacco-related deaths occur each year in the U.S. Not all are covered under public health care but still, do the math!

The size of the total settlements to the states was about $265 BILLION dollars, which at the time was about 100 times greater than the largest settlement in the history of litigation!!!

That's how badly smoking damages our heath care system and is the direct reason why some parents can't afford health care for their children. Smokers don't even come close to paying their share in tobacco taxes when balanced against the damage they inflict. If they paid $10 per pack, it still wouldn't be enough.

And finally, remember simple economics and the fact that cigarette smoking is drug addiction (believe me, I know!). Even though a smoker can be a functioning member of society as opposed to a crack addict, the affect on overall health can be considered similar. Imagine how many more sick people we would have if a daily supply of crack, coke, or heroin for the serious addict cost only five dollars, as it does for cigarettes. By raising the price we will reduce consumption ... simple economics ... and price can be the one great determining factor in a child's decision on being a smoker or not. In that sense, by raising the price, Measure 50 is really doing smokers a favor. VOTE YES ON MEASURE 50!

Comments

  • Sally (unverified)
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    Let's look at the facts, shall we?

    You object to the ads stating that it ammends the constitution (true) and that only 30% of the money will go to children's health care. Now the politicians SAY the money will increase later but, let's look at what's happened to tobacco taxes and the settlement money and maybe you'll understand why people are skeptical of the politicians promises to "increase the money later"

    From: http://tobaccofreekids.org/reports/settlements/state.php?StateID=OR

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that the state of Oregon spend between $21.1 million and $52.8 million a year to have an effective, comprehensive tobacco prevention program. Oregon currently allocates $3.5 million a year for tobacco prevention. This is 16.3% of the CDC's minimum recommendation and ranks Oregon 33rd among the states in the funding of tobacco prevention programs. Oregon's spending on tobacco prevention amounts to 1.1% of the $326 million in tobacco-generated revenue the state collects each year in tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes.

    AND THERE'S MORE

    Current Status: Oregon's tobacco settlement payments are folded into the state's general fund and allocated through the biennial budget process. At the start of the 2005 Legislature, Governor Ted Kulongoski's (D) Recommended Budget included $5.1 million for the Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP) for the 2005-2007 biennium. The final biennial budget approved by the Legislature and signed by the Governor allocates $6.9 million or just under $3.5 million each year to tobacco prevention and cessation. Actual spending differs within years in a biennium based on normal program spending fluctuation.

    TPEP continues to be entirely funded by tobacco tax revenues. No tobacco settlement revenue is being used for prevention, with most of the MSA payments currently earmarked to repay general obligation bonds sold by the state to balance its budget. A small percentage of MSA revenue is used for the state's Medicaid health plan and other medical research facilities.

    In September 2002, the Legislature referred a state cigarette tax increase to the ballot. Oregon voters, by a 64 to 36 percent margin, approved Ballot Measure 20 to increase the tax by 60 cents a pack. Much of the new revenue was dedicated to funding the Oregon Health Plan, but the measure also included $2 million in FY2003-2005 for tobacco prevention, bringing FY2003 funding to $11.09 million.

    Then, in the 2003 session, the legislature cut $4.04 million from the tobacco prevention budget. Because the cut came so late in the biennium, it necessitated a program shutdown.

    Use the general revenue funds, stop issuing kicker checks and fund children's healthcare.

  • Garlynn -- undergroundscience.blogspot.com (unverified)
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    "Sally": You must be on the payroll of the tobacco companies, with a post like that!

    Good way to change the topic, while still managing to get a negative message across.

    Problem is, you've done nothing to convince me to vote against raising the tax on cigarettes to fund children's health care.

    Good job!

  • Ross Williams (unverified)
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    Lets be clear. Measure 50 will fund children's health care while reducing the use of tobacco. And it will do it at the tobacco companies' expense, which is why they are spending so much money to oppose it. But they have tested their messages and you can be sure they are persuasive or they wouldn't be spending the money on them.

  • Pete (unverified)
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    Anything that helps kids and at the same time hurts the big tobacco companies, well I'm definitely for it. There are far too many kids who don't have adequate insurance in this state. And I'm really sick of hearing about tobacco companies coming into Oregon and spending huge sums to try to buy votes. They've already been caught sending out questionable letters, what else will they stoop to doing. And when have they ever done or supported anything positive?

  • alijane (unverified)
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    One question - funding this program and expecting reduced smoking from the tax incrase does not pencil out. I have wondered if there is a Plan B? If this source of funding declines we will pay for children's health care with. . .?

  • Aaron V. (unverified)
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    I'll have to agree with Pete on that....even if the money went into increasing our kicker checks, Big Tobacco is still getting off cheap compared to the damage their products do.

    Oh, and would I pay an extra nickel a beer or quarter a bottle of wine for children's health care? Sure! But Big Tobacco is making it seem like less than a nickel a cigarette is the biggest folly since Prohibition.

  • (Show?)

    Alijane, If we can slow down the growth of cigarette use in yourg people, such that less become/remain smokers, that may have a trickle-down effect. Smokers tend to raise smokers, non-smokers tend to raise non-smokers. Since much of the respiratory problems in kids are related to living in smoker's homes, as those go down so will the related health care needs. And if the trend to create public health care catches on, the shrinking pool of smokers paying the tax may not be an issue. And of course with the finacial burden of smoking-related illness reduced (quit or die, the choice is theirs) health costs go down. I don't pretend it will be perfect, but I'll wager with new care for kids, smoking prevention programs reducing new addicts, it will be a damn site better than what's in place today.

  • (Show?)

    One question - funding this program and expecting reduced smoking from the tax incrase does not pencil out.

    Sorry, Alijane, but the people who wrote this plan are not complete and total morons. They've already included the (small) expected drop in smoking.

    And yes, it pencils out.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    I made up my mind for a NO way before the tobacco goonies came forward. In fact, for years and years I have voted NO on anything and everything that amends the constitution. The constitution is a document that is to help interpret the law - not be the law. I guess no one has learned from what happened with the Volsted Act in the U.S. constituion where a statutory law became a constitutional amendment and all hell broke loose until it got repealed. Those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    Just think about it, voting yes on M50 will get us healthy kids, but they will be a miseable lot because they will have no constituion left to protect them.

    But what do I know? I am just an opinionated consituent that gets mostly ignored.

  • (Show?)

    Just think about it, voting yes on M50 will get us healthy kids, but they will be a miseable lot because they will have no constituion left to protect them.

    The Oregon constitution has articles on pollution control, energy loans, seismic rehabilitation of buildings, the formation of OHSU, and even a prohibition on public dueling.

    I think it will survive a tax that will insure 117,000 kids.

  • Sally (unverified)
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    This is a bad bill for a number of reasons:

    1)Only 30% of the money goes to children's healthcare the first year. We're supposed to trust the legislature to keep funding it despite the fact that every time a tobacco tax passes or they've gotten money from big tobacco, they've misused the money. Why isn't the other 70% put into a trust for future children's health needs?

    2)Ammending the constitution because that's what Big Tobacco required is a feeble excuse.

    3)Children's health, like education and infrastructure, should be funded by general revenues. Sin taxes are notoriously unreliable as a funding source.

    4)Oregon spends less than most other states in a per capita basis on stop smoking and education programs, despite the fact that they work. Forty years ago, 60-70% of the adults smoke, now only 20-30% smoke. This is a triumph of public education yet Oregon continues to ignore that every smoker they stop today is better for everyone in the future.

    I have no intention of changing the minds of "true believers". It's pointless. Taxing tobacco is the easiest way to fund this program. That doesn't make it the best way.

    This is a bad bill that will probably pass. In five years we'll be having the same discussion.

  • tl (unverified)
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    I've said/asked it before, and I'll say/ask it again - perhaps more pointedly - for those opposed to M50:

    1. do you support funding adequate healthcare for all of Oregon's children?

    2. if you do, what funding source would you propose instead of the M50 solution - one that actually has a chance of being passed?

    It is easy to criticize something, but provide some workable alternative to balance out all the negatives you name.

    M50 is not perfect, but it is the best, most feasible solution I can see for the immediate term.

  • Gus Frederick (unverified)
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    FWIW, I've been waging my own personal campaign by replying to the two "Personal Letters" I have received; one from Salem first grade teacher, Ben Matthews, and most recently from Silverton Deli owner Cheryl Cannon. I wrote them back to the addresses listed on their respective envelopes, (867 Liberty Street NE in Salem for Ben and Salem P.O. Box 12945 for Cheryl).

    I was wondering if there are any laws against other people opening mail addressed to another individual. If I send a letter to Ben at the return address "HE" provided on the envelope of his "personal" letter, and instead someone else, (say someone named "MARK"), are they violating U.S. postal regulations? Just wondering...

    Gus Frederick Civic Side-Thorn & Radical Cartoonist

  • (Show?)
    1. do you support funding adequate healthcare for all of Oregon's children?

    Yes, for those who don't have access to adequate funding and/or healthcare coverage.

    2. if you do, what funding source would you propose instead of the M50 solution - one that actually has a chance of being passed?

    Any funding source which would be progressive (or neutral) and distributes the burden wider.

    I agree that Tobacco is the most feasible in the short term because Tobacco is extremely unpopular among the huge majority of the population who don't use Tobacco products, and thus Tobacco users are also extremely unpopular with that same huge majority. The net effect in terms relevant here is that Tobacco users are effectively impotent politically. Well... except for Cigar smokers who got a special exemption option written into M50 just for them. That the socio-economic status of Cigar smokers is much higher than that of the typical Cigarette smoker is obviously why they got special treatment.

    Much has been said by M50 supporters about the societal costs of smoking as if that somehow justifies the patent regressivity of M50. Glibly ignored is the fact that Tobacco-related deaths (and thus associated costs) have been trending downward and have been superceded by obesity-related deaths (and thus associated costs) which continue to trend upwards. If targeting the bad habit which poses the greatest fiscal drain on society then why was it bypassed in favor of targeting Tobacco? The answer to that is the explanation for why taxing Tobacco is the most feasible.

    "He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself." -- Thomas Paine

    When will something you do be part of a dispised minority and leave you vulnerable to being singled out as a funding source?

  • andy (unverified)
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    I already voted no on m50 and I didn't pay any attention to tobacco company literature. I don't smoke and I don't really care if there is a big tax on tobacco products or not. I voted no since I don't support the creation (or expansion) of entitlement programs when the State is already having troubles funding existing programs. Saying it is for the kids is just a sappy tag line. I find it funny that so many people fall for that. Maybe a picture of a puppy dog would really bring out the votes! Or better yet, a little kid holding a puppy dog.

  • (Show?)

    As the child of a smoker who sacrificed a lot in relationships for the sake of her addiction, I know that addiction is thicker than blood. ( See my previous comment on this post: SJR 4... I have no trouble connecting children's health to tobacco profits.

    How are the tobacco companies any different from dealers pushing crack or heroin or meth? The only difference is that tobacco is legal. The tobacco industry profits from poisoning their customers and those close to them. The harm radiates through families.

    I say goddam the pushers.

  • djk (unverified)
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    I've said/asked it before, and I'll say/ask it again - perhaps more pointedly - for those opposed to M50:

    1. do you support funding adequate healthcare for all of Oregon's children?

    2. if you do, what funding source would you propose instead of the M50 solution - one that actually has a chance of being passed?

    3. Yes, absolutely.

    4. I support the funding source proposed in Measure 50. However, it does not belong in the state constitution. This is properly a statute, and should be passed as one.

    And no, that's not tobacco industry spin. I understand why they're using that argument, because it's the ONLY valid argument against the measure, and I don't believe for a second that they actually care. But I made up my mind on this issue long before Big Tobacco their first ads. Years before, in fact.

    The constitution is for setting up basic powers, limitations on powers, and structure of government. It's not about writing in details like a tobacco tax. For the past twenty years I've been criticizing Sizemore and his ilk for trying to put stuff in the state constitution that doesn't belong there. I was furious with the Republican legislature for doing the same thing in the 1990s with the kicker.

    I'm not about to flip-flop on a long-held principle just because I happen to like the policy expressed. If this was being added to Oregon Revised Statutes where it belongs, I'd vote for it in a heartbeat.

  • Eric J. (unverified)
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    Thank you djk!

  • (Show?)

    The ideal of limiting the Constitution to "basic powers, limitations on powers, and structure of government" was lost in Oregon a long, long time ago. And a great deal of the additions have to do with taxes. Get over it. Waiting for the perferct is just an excuse to pass up a chance to do good.

  • (Show?)

    DJK, so how do you respond to Bill Penny's statement up in the original post?

    Much is made of the fact that Measure 50 will amend our Constitution, and I agree that this is regrettable, but does anyone know the reason why? It's because that's the way the tobacco industry wanted it. Since too many of our more conservative politicians in Salem are on the tobacco industry's payroll, this legislation couldn't be passed as a statute. Knowing that they couldn't completely block this policy-shift being driven forward by the Dems, the industry encouraged their stooges in the legislature to force the measure to be referred to the voters as an amendment to the Constitution. After all, that would be the best way to fight it, right? So if you're upset to vote for Measure 50 as an amendment, just remember to blame the tobacco industry.
  • (Show?)

    Kevin wrote, If targeting the bad habit which poses the greatest fiscal drain on society then why was it bypassed in favor of targeting Tobacco? The answer to that is the explanation for why taxing Tobacco is the most feasible.

    I'd love to hear your proposal for taxing obesity - or the food that causes it. Oh, and making it progressive to boot.

    I'm all ears.

  • (Show?)

    Well... if you buy TJ's argument, which I do NOT, then the "user fee" aspect of taxing junk food would negate the apparent regressivity of it.

    I don't know that there is a way to tax junk food progressively. But it seems self-evident to me that it would at least be inherently less regressive than M50 simply by spreading the financial burden much more broadly. That it would not crassly take advantage of a physical addiction would seem to me to be much more socially progressive too.

  • Sally (unverified)
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    It's idiotic to claim that if you don't vote for Measure 50 you think sick children should go untreated.

    Your lack of imagination or interest in holding the legislature accountable in doing their job is your problem, not mine. It's THEIR JOB to find the solution. But I can think of a bunch of solutions that would not be regressive off the top of my head:

    1)Get rid of the kicker 2)Eliminate the tax deduction for children if people earn more than $60,000.00/year 3)Cut back on prison spending. 4)Increase the minimum corporate tax (it's currently a joke)

    My question is the same, given the legislature's track record on misusing the tobacco taxes and the settlement money why should I believe that this money will be used for children's health?

    Heck, only 30% is used the first year, then it's general revenue money.

  • djk (unverified)
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    DJK, so how do you respond to Bill Penny's statement up in the original post?

    Much is made of the fact that Measure 50 will amend our Constitution, and I agree that this is regrettable, but does anyone know the reason why? It's because that's the way the tobacco industry wanted it.

    <hr/>

    So if you're upset to vote for Measure 50 as an amendment, just remember to blame the tobacco industry.

    No, I blame every Republican legislator who didn't have the spine to stand up to tobacco lobbyists (or to their own party leadership), and the Democrats for not fighting harder or bargaining smarter. Yes, of course Big Tobacco is throwing around money and influence, but every member of the legislature is responsible for his or her own vote.

    I agree that it's "regrettable" that the Democrats decided to punt with a constitutional amendment. More than "regettable," it's wrong. The solution to an obstinant minority veto is to keep fighting until you pass it, even if that means a special session or the next session. It does not mean "do an end run around the stupid 3/5ths majority rule" (which is itself damaging constitutional clutter) by messing up the constitution even more than it is already.

  • Matthew Sutton (unverified)
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    I have some ideas for the tobacco industry to consider.

    Figure out how to convert your tobacco crops into something useful for the United States. Can we turn tobacco into biofuels? Can you grow switchgrass or something similar in those climes? Or how about turning your tobacco fields into fields of solar panels reducing our carbon emissions and dependency on foreign oil.

    As it now stands, you really aren't doing much for the United States of America other than causing cancer and driving up health care costs. Its time to start thinking about beginning to convert your great resources to better our Nation.

    Until you do so, please don't complain about these tax measures because you have absolutely no sympathy from the vast majority of Americans.

  • (Show?)

    For those who are looking for a handy talking point to use in the constitutional debate, here's what I'm using:

    "It might seem a little strange at first, but it's so important for our state to be able to fund things like health care for children that the Oregon Constitution already contains many other tax provisions.

    In fact, there are more words in the existing Oregon Constitution that deal with tax than with any other subject.

    So, to put Measure 50, which relates to a tax on cigarette sales, into the constitution is not at all unusual."

    Thanks to Charlie Hinkle and OPB for most of that.

    If it's useful, use it. If not, use something else.

  • (Show?)

    Sally, if you look at SB3, which is what M50 funds, and at the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office report on it, you will see that they are nothing like the tobacco settlement. That money was not required to be spent any particular place. It got spent the way it did in part because of the stupidities in the current revenue system that you identify.

    SB3 requires that about 85% of the tobacco tax be spent directly on health care and that 68% of the total go to "Healthy Kids" (more in a moment). As nearly as I can tell, most of the remaining 15% actually goes to health purposes, replacing revenue estimated to be lost to a rural healthcare program and another one escaping me right now due to declining revenue from the current tobacco tax (this is part of Kari's point that the leg. paid attention to the sales effects).

    The money that is not spent in the short term (the so-called blank check) cannot be spent for general purposes, only for the specific health-related purposes set out in SB3.

    Andy's parroting of the commercials about creating a new entitlement and not funding existing programs is mistaken if not a deliberate lie. (The commercial is a deliberate lie). The mechanisms for "Healthy Kids" are three existing programs -- Medicaid/OHP, State Children's Health Insurance Program account, and a much smaller fund to help certain families buy a "private insurance product".

    Thus what the new tax does is exactly to fund the existing underfunded programs. Nothing new, except some reduction of bureaucratic red tape relating to these programs.

    The difference between the 68% for Healthy Kids and the 85% for all health insurance is for restoring 10,000 adult parents of children to OHP (call it "Healthy Families") which is designed in part to get more kids signed up.

    Sal Peralta, 117,000 is the estimated number of uninsured kids in Oregon. SB3/M50 are estimated by the Oregon Legislative Fiscal Office to insure about 94,000 of those, which would bring the proportion of insured kids in Oregon to 95%. The report says there is an irreducible increment of people who can't be got to sign up. Another reason for truly universal government funded national health insurance.

    Sally, I agree with everything you say that isn't about M50, about the tax system and about how paying to insure kids should be a common responsibility, like paying for public schools or firefighting or police (ooh, those evil socialist programs). But I ended up voting yes on M50 anyway. Unlike you, I expect it to fail.

  • (Show?)

    The solution to an obstinant minority veto is to keep fighting until you pass it, even if that means a special session or the next session.

    Even if that means that tens of thousands of Oregon children will go another two years without health care?

    I, for one, won't wait another minute on some silly notion of what the Constitution is "for" - when that "rule" has been violated so many, many, many times.

    Sorry - but the Oregon Constitution ain't the U.S. Constitution.

  • gawd (unverified)
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    I can't really believe I did it, but I voted against this measure. I am sick and tired of feeble-minded politicians who won't consider or vote for a tax when they damn well know that services need to be provided and taxes are needed to pay for them.

    This measure is a weeny way of getting around these spineless saps called politicians. If you're going to tax someone for a service we deem vital, then tax everyone.

    I'm not a smoker and in my 30+ years of voting, I have NEVER voted against a tax increase. Until now.

  • Sally (unverified)
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    Chris Lowe>Thanks for your thoughtful post in response to my concerns with the legislature misusing the money.

    <h2>Unlike you, I think it will pass. I'm opposed and think it will pass, you're in favor and think it will fail. We'll have an idea fairly soon.</h2>
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