As a family physician and a parent of teenagers, I have noted with great concern the alarming growth of vaping among local youth.
The Oregon Health Authority reports that one in four Oregon high schoolers has vaped. In the last year alone, vaping among Oregon youth increased by 80 percent. Research shows that young people who vape are almost three times more likely to start smoking tobacco. Big tobacco companies also know this, which is why they target youth with candy-flavored vapes and related advertising. I have seen firsthand the adverse effects that vaping has had on young people in our community.
However, right now Oregon doesn’t tax vapes one penny. In fact, Oregon currently has some of the lowest taxes in the country on tobacco and vaping products.
Voters can change that on Nov. 3 by voting yes on Measure 108. Written by a bi-partisan committee, Measure 108 increases vape and tobacco taxes to similar levels found in Washington and California. The measure establishes a 65 percent wholesale tax on nicotine vaping products and increases cigarette taxes by $2 a pack. Research shows that taxing nicotine products prevents many young people from starting to use them, thus saving an estimated 19,000 youth from tobacco addiction and its serious health effects.
Measure 108 dedicates those dollars to tobacco prevention and cessation programs and to the Oregon Health Plan, which serves one in four Oregonians, including low-income families, seniors, children and people with disabilities. The funding can only be used for these purposes, ensuring that Oregon Health Plan members — including 400,000 children — can see a doctor when they get sick and receive needed health treatment.
Tobacco is the number one cause of preventable death in Oregon. We all pay the price for tobacco use: $1.5 billion per year for smoking-related health care costs in Oregon, while tobacco companies continue to profit.
Over the years, so many of my patients have told me that they regretted starting smoking as teens — and how hard it is to quit despite their desire to do so. Measure 108 asks us to vote yes for a healthy future — for our youth and for our state. The importance of this effort is indicated by the many leaders who have endorsed the measure, including the American Lung Association, Oregon nurses and doctors, local chambers of commerce and a growing coalition of more than 200 endorsers from every corner of the state. On a personal note, my own mother was diagnosed with lung cancer this past year, and she wishes now that she did not start smoking as a teen.
Please join me in voting yes on Measure 108.
Kevin Ewanchyna, MD, is a Corvallis family physician who serves as chief medical officer for Samaritan Health Plans. He is also the current president of the Oregon Medical Association.