Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 10.18.07

Healthier Kids
Less smoke helps make it happen

Big Tobacco is trying to buy the Measure 50 election with the largest war chest we in Oregon have ever seen. Don’t let them. Let’s clear the smoke and not be confused by the false and misleading claims of Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and others who profit from Oregonians’ addictions.

Measure 50 will do two very useful things: First, it will fund health care for uninsured kids. Second, the higher price for cigarettes will lead many (mostly young) Oregonians to stop smoking or never take it up in the first place, both great reasons to pass Measure 50.

Why spend the money primarily on kids’ health care? We have more than 117,000 Oregon kids who are uninsured. We know that children without healthcare coverage are more likely to be sick and do less well in school. The future of our state depends on us doing well for our children. It is just as important for kids to be healthy as it is for them to have an adequate number and quality of teachers and classrooms. Kids who don’t have access to medical care cannot succeed in the classroom. Without basics you and I might take for granted, like eye exams, glasses, dental care or asthma medication, children cannot focus on their studies.

You may have seen ads on TV paid for by “Oregonians Against the Blank Check” (a check of campaign finance records shows this group is paid for almost entirely by Big Tobacco, companies like Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds. There are a few actual Oregonians who contribute to the committee, and they are powerful cigarette, alcohol and adult entertainment industry lobbyists.) In these ads, misleading and distracting claims are made about the tax increase made to cover the cost of the insurance. The increase in taxes per pack of cigarettes raises Oregon to the level already established by Washington state. This amount still doesn’t come close to matching the costs non-smokers bear to cover smokers’ medical costs. This small increase HAS been demonstrated to reduce the number of kids who begin smoking in the first place. So Measure 50, the Healthy Kids initiative, is a win-win for everyone.


The health effects of tobacco are so enormous that even with the increased tax, tobacco related health costs will still be at least five times the total amount collected in tobacco taxes. That means that non-smokers will still be significantly subsidizing the health costs of smokers, both in dollars and in the costs of non-smokers’ own illnesses contracted because of second-hand smoke.

A “yes” vote on Measure 50 will allow us to pay the entire state share of the Healthy Kids program and the use reduction and education program for many years. Most of this money will be matched by federal taxes you already pay that are now being spent outside Oregon.

There’s a good reason I joined with a bi-partisan group of legislators to refer Measure 50 to the voters. I think the people of Oregon are tired of standing by while children in this state go without medical care. Last year Oregon voters showed that they could stand up to big out-of-state interests and their huge misleading campaign spending. I believe we can do it again by sending a message to Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and other big, out-of-state corporations to butt out of our elections.

Let’s reject Big Tobacco’s attempts to hijack Oregon’s democracy, and give our kids the healthy start in life they deserve.

Join me in voting yes on Measure 50.

Phil Barnhart represents central Lane and Linn counties in the Oregon House of Representatives. He can be contacted at or 607-9207.