New taxes on nicotine vaping and higher taxes on cigarettes and cigars would be created if voters approve Measure 108.
Measure 108 is the second of four statewide measures on the ballot in November.
The measure aims to create a new 65% tax on e-cigarettes and other vaping products, which are not currently taxed.
The cigarette tax would increase by $2 a pack, rising from $1.33 to $3.33. The tax on cigars would rise to 65%, with a $1 per cigar cap. Currently, the cigar tax is 50 cents.
The measure was requested by Gov. Kate Brown and referred to voters by the state Legislature through passage of House Bill 2270. Many Republican legislators opposed the bill, including Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, and Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston.
If Measure 108 passes, the state would raise about $331 million from the new taxes in the first two years after they were put in place.
The money would go to the Oregon Health Authority and be used to fund health coverage for low-income families, including mental health and public health programs. Ninety percent would go into the Oregon Health Plan, while 10% would pay for programs that deal with health problems created by tobacco products.
Supporters argue it will reduce smoking and the health problems associated with it, while raising money to improve public health. Opponents argue it unfairly targets vaping products and will force small businesses to close.
Measure 108 is supported by a number of health care organizations, from the Oregon Medical Association to the Oregon Nurses Association to hospitals across the state, including CHI Mercy Medical Center in Roseburg.
Mercy CEO Kelly Morgan submitted written testimony in favor of HB 2270 in June.
“Raising the price of tobacco by $2.00 per pack and taxing gateway tobacco products like e-cigarettes will save lives, prevent youth from starting tobacco and will lower health care costs for all Oregonians,” he said.
He wrote that tobacco use is the number one preventable cause of death in Oregon.
“More people die from tobacco than from obesity, alcohol, motor vehicle accidents, firearms and illicit drug use combined,” he wrote.
According to Yes for a Healthy Future, a coalition group supporting Measure 108, it is designed to fight back against tobacco companies it said are working hard to create new nicotine addictions, including among young people.
Yes for a Healthy Future said tobacco companies are aggressively marketing to youth with candy-flavored vape products. It said youth who start vaping are three times more likely to later take up smoking.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, nicotine in e-cigarettes is unsafe for youth and young adults both because it is highly addictive and because it can harm adolescent brain development. However, the CDC also said e-cigarettes have the potential to benefit adult smokers if used as a substitute for cigarettes.
The Taxpayers Association of Oregon opposes the measure. It argues nicotine taxes are regressive, meaning the burden for paying them falls disproportionately on the poor.
It also argues the increased taxes would hurt small neighborhood stores.
Jason Weber, owner of Vape Crusaders in Roseburg, said he believes the measure would force many of Oregon’s vape shops to close.
“I’m not sure how many of us would survive a tax that big. I think it would probably put 90% of us out of business in Oregon,” he said.
He said it wouldn’t reduce the demand for vape products, but would instead push consumers to make purchases online, where sellers wouldn’t have to raise their prices to cover the tax.
As for youth vaping, he noted that Oregon law requires shops like his to only sell to customers 21 and older. Even before that age limit was in place, he said, he was selling vape products only to adults.
He also disputed the assertion that vaping leads to cigarette smoking.
“The number one reason we use nicotine in our products, although it’s not used in every product, it helps people wean off of cigarettes. First we switch them to getting their nicotine in a safer manner, and then we can start bringing their levels down to where they can walk away completely if that’s what they choose to do,” he said.