Guest Viewpoint

(Maisie Plew/Emerald)

Note: Ahead of the 2020 election, the Emerald reached out to the student groups representing the two major political parties on campus. This piece reflects the views of the University of Oregon College Democrats, and not those of Emerald Media Group. The Emerald has lightly edited this piece for grammar, clarity and style. Send letters, op-eds or pieces about campus issues or our reporting to editor@dailyemerald.com.

On the surface, Ballot Measure 108 appears to be an easy yes. Who would vote no on a tax on nicotine and cigar use while concurrently funding Oregon's health care? Well, the University of Oregon College Democrats would. Let's get into why.

In passing Measure 108, the state hopes to add a tax to cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes that will provide revenue for the medical and healthcare assistance programs at Oregon Health Authority. This includes mental health services, tribal health providers like Urban Indian Health Program and other programs concerning tobacco and nicotine health issues. Small amounts of funds would go to tax enforcement and other miscellaneous things, but it ultimately ends up expanding Oregon’s public healthcare. This sounds good, but a closer look reveals that the measure would disproportionately impact people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Solely considering Oregon’s income tax numbers shows us a fairly progressive system. Those falling in the bottom 20% of the income bracket pay 1.9% of their family income in taxes, while those in the top 1% pay roughly 6%. However, when supplemental taxes, including property, sales and excise taxes, are factored in, the tax rate for the bottom 20% jumps up to 10.1% of their income paid in taxes, while the top 1% pays just 8.1%. Measure 108 would expand the percentage of income paid on taxes for people in the lowest tax bracket disproportionately compared to those in higher brackets.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that those on the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder are more likely to smoke, use cigars and have lung cancer than that of those in any other group. This is largely due to the fact that tobacco marketing disproportionately targets those living in low income areas. There’s a common misconception that increasing the price of tobacco will dissuade smokers from smoking, however, a few studies have shown this to be false. According to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, raising prices of tobacco does reduce smoking in new smokers but hardly ever dissuades long-term smokers. University of California, San Francisco medical professor Stanton Glantz contends that taxes on cigarettes are much less effective than other preventative methods,like non-smoking workplaces, strong warning labels, strong media campaigns and an R rating for movies with smoking. 

Finally, Oregon Democrats currently hold the house, the senate and the governorship and, if they so pleased, could raise income taxes on the wealthiest parts of the tax brackets and big businesses to even the tax rate and pay for public health expansion. Instead, they have opted to hand the three-year $442.5 million expansion down to the lowest parts of the socioeconomic ladder. For these reasons we urge the Oregon electorate to vote no on Measure 108. Instead our elected leaders should find another way to prevent addiction and aid in healthcare funding without placing the burden on the marginalized groups these substances were aimed at.