EUGENE, Ore. -- On Friday, the Lane County Board of Commission announced they are behind legislation that would allow counties across Oregon to levy their own tax on tobacco products. While they see it as a benefit, opponents say the proposed bill targets the poor and addicted.
“It’s a win for local control,” Lane County Commissioner Jay Bozievich told KVAL during an interview in his office at the courthouse. “And that’s what this is really about; allowing local governments that are closest to the people have control over taxation of those people.”
The Oregon House of Legislators passed HB 2870
with a vote of 31-29 on Thursday afternoon. The bill would allow counties across Oregon to levy a tobacco tax of $1.18 per pack of cigarettes.
An amendment to the bill requires 40 percent of a county tobacco
tax revenue to be spent on smoking prevention, mental health programs and other addiction services.
If the bill gets signed into law, county commissioners could vote to levy a tobacco tax without approval from constituents.
“We’re not actually contemplating taxing at this time,” said Bozievich.
He added that he would push for voter approval before levying a tax on tobacco, should HB 2870 pass.
The financially strapped Lane County lobbied for the bill in Salem on Thursday. Commission Chair Sid Leiken said he presented a letter of support to Rep. Nancy Nathanson, a Eugene Democrat.
In Eugene, health officials said a tobacco tax would help combat a public health crisis related to smoking in Lane County.
“Teenagers don’t have a lot of money,” said Lane County Public Health
information officer Jason Davis on Thursday just after HB 2870 passed. “If we increase the price of a pack of cigarettes, fewer teenagers start smoking. Fewer kids start smoking means that we have fewer adult smokers. Fewer adult smokers mean that we have fewer health problems.”
Health officials reported that 18 percent of adults and 24 percent of pregnant mothers in Lane County smoke, rates higher than the state average.
But opponents have argued that tobacco tax legislation targets low-income individuals and preys on nicotine addicted members of society.
“It’s not going to stop anyone from smoking,” said a smoker outside of the University of Oregon campus on Friday. “They’re just going to be more broke.”
“There’s no reason to tax someone on something that’s just ruining your health,” said another opponent to HB 2870 on Friday. “That’s not right.”