Oregon Senate Votes to Raise Tobacco Age

The Oregon Senate passed SB 754 on March 23 by a bipartisan vote of 19-8. If the bill passes the House and is signed by Governor Kate Brown, the minimum age for buying tobacco products will be raised from 18 to 21. Not everyone is thrilled, but they probably should be.

Sponsored largely by Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward of District 17, the bill furthers her goal of protecting Oregon families. Its bipartisan support demonstrates the importance of preventing youngsters from possessing addictive substances.

Critics of the bill pointed to the fact that Oregon might lose out on revenue generated from the life-ruining habit. Proponents of the bill argue that raising taxes on tobacco products will offset that loss… oh, and the notion that less sick and dying people will be better for taxpayers and the economy.

The Oregon Health Authority website displays plenty of research. Here are some highlights from 2014: Oregon experienced 7,126 tobacco-related deaths, had nearly 140,000 people with serious tobacco-induced illness, and spent $1.4 million on medical care for tobacco users. Benton County lost 95 individuals while another 1,857 succumbed to tobacco-related illness. Since 2014, Oregon’s tobacco medical bill has increased by nearly $1 million.

The good news is that since 1996, tobacco use among children and adults has dropped in a slightly bumpy, but overall consistent trend. Adults are now 25% less likely to be users while consumption among 8th and 11th graders has dropped by 80% and 65% respectively. In fact, according to Tobacco21.org, Oregon has one of the lowest rates of high school smokers in the country.

The argument has been made that tobacco use is a choice one makes for oneself. I can’t disagree, but if you have seen loved ones or friends suffer, then you know it’s not worth a few extra bucks in the state’s coffers and it certainly is not worth filling the pockets of some Big Tobacco a*s-hat. Luckily it would seem Oregon is largely on board and 2017 might be a good year to turn over a new leaf.

Check out tobacco21.org for more info and updates about what is going on in Oregon.

By Anthony Vitale