A contentious tobacco tax proposal narrowly cleared the two-thirds majority hurdle in the Oregon House before it heads to the Senate, and if successful there, to the ballot in November 2020.
The legislation would raise cigarette taxes from $1.33 per pack to $3.33, raise a 50 cent tax cap on cigars to $1 and establish Oregon’s first-ever tax on “gateway tobacco” products like e-cigarettes and vaping.
With the recent surge of vaping in adolescents, House Bill 2270 aims to curb what looks like a whole new generation that could be addicted to nicotine.
In the past year, use of e-cigarettes increased 78% in high schoolers and 48% in middle schoolers nationwide.
Expensive tobacco products are seen by lawmakers as a chance to save lives and prevent addictions, as adolescents are particularly sensitive to costs.
“There is a direct relationship between the price of tobacco products and the number of people that use those products,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas, D- Lake Oswego, during debate on the House floor Thursday.
Projections show the tax hike will mean 19,000 fewer kids become smokers and 31,000 adults quit smoking, Salinas said.
But several legislators denied a tax hike will slow trends. “If we think this is now going to slow vaping for those underage, we’re kidding ourselves,” Rep. Werner Reschkle, R-Klamath Falls, said. “This business is going underground.”
Owners of smoke shops and convenience stores came out in droves to testify to committee that the tax hike would hurt business, especially because smokers in other states drive to Oregon to purchase tobacco products, where the tax is significantly lower than California and Washington.
And vape shop owners were vocal in asserting that their products are critical to helping people quit smoking, though proponents of the tax say there is no data to back up that claim.
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