Cigarette Tax Increase Won’t Help Stop Smoking
By Taxpayer Association Oregon
A large per-pack increase in Oregon’s cigarette tax currently being debated in the State Legislature will primarily back-fill General Fund spending, and do little to help smokers quit. HB 2555 will increase Oregon’s cigarette tax by $1.00 per pack, but only 20 percent of the new revenues will be used on tobacco use cessation programs. Instead, the new funding will be put to work expanding the Oregon Health Plan and transportation programs for senior citizens. In addition, 40 percent of the money will be sent to cities and counties around Oregon.
At a recent hearing on the Bill, Rep. Alyssa Keny-Guyer testified in favor, and also responded to a series of questions from Rep. Cliff Bentz. Rep. Bentz was interested in how he could describe high cigarette taxes to smokers who have tried, but could not quit. They will receive no direct benefit from the higher taxes, since cessation programs have proven to be ineffective for them. After a long while, Rep. Keny-Guyer described the taxes as a “user fee” and suggested that it was smokers contribution to the various programs that are funded. In particular, she noted that the Oregon Health Plan receives cigarette tax funding because it treats the health needs of smokers on the Program.
Typically, however, a “user fee” directly benefits the person paying it – for instance gas taxes are normally thought of as a “user fee” because the revenues are used to build roads that the drivers paying the tax actually use. However, there are no provisions in State law that require funding provided to the Oregon Health Plan by cigarette taxes be used for the health care of current or former smokers. There is also only a small chance that a smoker will ever benefit from senior transportation programs. While all smokers will benefit in an indirect way from monies distributed to the city and county in which they live, this represents a very tiny portion of the overall tax collections.
It was admitted that, overall, programs to help people stop smoking are largely ineffective, with success rates frequently under 10 percent. It was suggested that smokers should try several different programs in search of one that might work for them.