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Could a tax hike promote health?

Published On: Mar 13 2013 08:52:54 PM CDT
Updated On: Mar 13 2013 08:53:33 PM CDT

NewsChannel 21's Kim Tobin spoke with a cigarette shop owner, Deschutes County health expert, and smokers about a new bill that could nearly double the tax on a pack of cigarettes.

BEND, Ore. -

Health advocates are asking the Oregon Legislature to nearly double the state tax on a pack of cigarettes, from $1.18 to $2.18. Deschutes County health experts said Wednesday that statistics show higher taxes can help curb smoke, but one business owner says he believes the tobacco industry is being unfairly targeted.

"Do you know how many people I hear say they want to quit every day?" Doug Early asked his customer Wednesday.

Early owns Best Priced Cigarettes on Bend's Eastside, and says smokers can't take any more tax increases.

"I don't think it's a wise thing to do," Early said. "I think we've already been taxed enough over the years. It just seems like they keep picking on the tobacco industry."

A House bill proposes to hike taxes by a dollar.

But David Vasiko, with Deschutes County Health, says the added cost will be worth the outcome.

"Every 10 percent that a tax increases, the rate of youth smoking decreases by 7 percent," Vasiko said "The overall consumption of cigarettes decreases by 4 percent."

The reaction was mixed among many smokers on COCC's campus. Some said they expect the tax, while others called it discrimination.

"People who smoke may not have a lot of money to begin with, and if they have to pay more for their habit, they'll have even less money," said smoker Austin Throop.

Thirty-year smoker James Cox said he thinks the tax could help, "Might help some, especially younger people, from picking up a filthy habit anyway," Cox said.

Even with the possibility of an increase, many say smokers will find a way to light up.

"I think people will still smoke," Early said. "They're going to find a way to get it, no matter, whether they chew it, whether they smoke it,  or whether they do the electronic cigarette."

County health experts say one pack of cigarettes adds up to $40 in costs to the community. Residents paid an estimated $42 million in health-related illnesses because of tobacco just last year, they said.

"The more that we can increase this tax, we're going to see a decrease in the health care costs for that," Vasiko. "Because less people will use, and it will be a win-win."

This issue is the topic of our KTVZ.COM poll, which asks: Do you favor a proposal to hike Oregon's cigarette tax by $1 a pack?  As of late Wednesday, 46 percent say yes, 52 percent say no and two percent haven't made up their mind. About 480 of have cast their votes. You can find the poll about halfway down the right side of our home page.

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