The Cost of Caution: Tobacco Industry Political Influence and Tobacco Policy Making in Oregon 1997-2007
Following the passage of Measure 44, which raised the cigarette tax by $0.30 in 1996, Oregon created its comprehensive Tobacco Prevention and Education Program (TPEP) in 1997 funded by 10% of Measure 44 revenues.
The Tobacco Free Coalition of Oregon (TOFCO) was a broad coalition of the voluntary health organizations and community partners that facilitated media advocacy and grassroots opportunities for clean indoor air policies and funding for TPEP.
Successful tobacco control efforts in Oregon at the state and local levels were instrumental in reducing per capita cigarette consumption by 11.3% in two years (1997-1999).
Local tobacco control coalitions were successful in passing (and defending) tobacco control policies from 1997 to 2001. The local ordinances in Corvallis (1998) and Eugene (2000) were regarded as model language for their 100% smokefree laws. In contrast, the Multnomah County smokefree workplace ordinance (1999) passed with a number of exemptions, including bars and bar areas of restaurants, and was later used as a model for the preemptive statewide smokefree workplace law.
In Oregon, the tobacco industry spent a total of $3,145,553 on lobbying and campaign contributions to legislators, political parties, and constitutional officers from 1997 to 2006. Republican political action committees (PACs) received nearly five times more than Democratic PACs; tobacco companies spent more than four times more on Republicans than Democrats in the legislature.
The tobacco industry attempted to hamper tobacco control efforts through several hospitality and retail organizations, but their most powerful ally was the Oregon Restaurant Association (ORA), which had one of the largest PACs in the state and was a major political player.
With an increasing number of local clean indoor air ordinances, the tobacco industry fought tobacco control efforts at the state level, where they had an obvious advantage with campaign contributions and well-connected lobbyists.
In 2001, tobacco industry lobbyists attacked TPEP with legislation that attacked TPEP’s credibility, infrastructure, and success passing local clean indoor air ordinances. In this negative policy environment, the ORA cut a deal with the Democratic Governor to enact the Indoor Clean Air Act of 2001, which preempted local governments from passing stronger laws and exempted bars, bar areas of restaurants, bingo halls, and bowling alleys. These exemptions were not removed until 2007 and will not actually be removed until 2009.
In another blow to tobacco control during the 2001 legislative session, TPEP was subject to “illegal lobbying” allegations, a tobacco industry tactic previously employed in California and elsewhere. The result of these claims was a “budget note” added to the TPEP appropriation by the Legislature that specifically restricted TPEP from lobbying for tobacco control ordinances and requiring local programs to advocate for passing tobacco control ordinances.
Among tobacco control advocates, the 2001 budget note initiated a more cautious attitude that outlasted the budget note's applicability to the 2001-03 budget cycle. The passage of the preemptive state law in the same session further limited the advocate's ability to pass effective tobacco control policies.
Oregon and 45 other states settled outstanding lawsuits against the four largest tobacco companies with the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998. Since the first payment in 1999, no money has been dedicated to tobacco prevention and education in Oregon as of 2007.
Tobacco control advocates defeated two ballot measures in 2000 that would have dedicated either none or a minimal amount of the MSA’s revenue stream to tobacco prevention and education.
Until 2004, Oregon’s cigarette tax was comprised of a permanent tax and a $0.10 temporary tax enacted in 1993 and dedicated to the Oregon Health Plan (OHP). The 10-cent tax was renewed every two years by the legislature.
In 2002, Measure 20 increased the cigarette tax by $0.60 to a total of $1.28 to generate new revenue anticipated to fill budget shortfalls. Advocates were unable to secure a permanent percentage of the tax increase for tobacco control, but TPEP received a onetime transfer of $2 million.
Oregon’s cigarette tax fell to $1.18 in 2004 after the tobacco industry funded anti-tax group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, attached the extension of the $0.10 temporary tax to Measure 30, a revenue-raising measure that included unpopular personal income and corporate tax increases in the midst of a statewide recession. Measure 30 failed, and Oregon’s cigarette tax decreased.
Using the state’s difficult budget shortfalls as a reason, legislators in the 2003 session completely defunded TPEP, shutting it down in March 2003. (Other programs funded by Measure 44 were cut, but only TPEP was shut down.)
Some funding was reinstated in December 2003, with a biennial budget that was 34% of its 2001-03 budget and 17% of the CDC’s minimum for state tobacco control programs. This disruption in funding had serious negative impacts on program staffing and continuity.
TPEP operated on a severely reduced budget during the 2003-05 and 2005-07 bienniums because Measure 44 funds were diverted by the state legislature to pay for OHP.
Since the significant reductions in TPEP’s budget, per capita cigarette consumption declined at a much slower rate than before, and now appears to have plateaued.
TOFCO has often been restrained by other political priorities of its member organizations, and tobacco control advocates have over-relied on contract lobbyists to set policy agendas and steer negotiations.
Oregon may be entering a period of resurgence after several setbacks caused the program to fall out of the national spotlight. The tobacco control movement in Oregon needs strong leaders who are less cautious and can mobilize public support throughout the state, not just the metropolitan hubs.