Letter to the Editor – April 10

From Kenneth Hart, president, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario:

No one knows Oregonians’ health better than the state’s health care providers. 

Our providers are there when babies are born, we provide support to parents as they raise their children, and help patients with end-of-life care. Oregon’s health care providers truly dedicate their lives and careers to the health and lives of all. 

However, there are still many preventable deaths in Oregon every year. Currently, tobacco causes almost 8,000 deaths per year, more than motor and firearm accidents, alcohol, and illegal drugs combined. 

In Malheur County, nearly 25 percent of all adults smoke, and Eastern Oregon has one of the highest rates of tobacco-related deaths in the state. These numbers show tobacco use continues to take a toll on the health of not only smokers, but also newborn babies, youth, and families. 

In addition to the physical toll tobacco takes on Oregonians, the costs weigh heavily on our health care system. Tobacco and nicotine add millions of dollars in health care costs in order to treat smoking-related illness. 

These costs are passed on to Oregonians at the price of $1,700 per household, per year or a total of $1.54 billion dollars annually. The cost of tobacco-related illnesses among those who receive care through the state’s Medicaid program, the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), was $347 million in 2010, roughly 9 percent of total OHP expenditures. This cost to the state will only continue to grow if nothing is done.

Nationally, Oregon ranks 32nd in the per-pack tax on cigarettes. This low-cost threshold contributes to our high smoking rates and subsequent health care costs to our system. The proposed $2 per pack increase and wholesale tax on e-cigarettes would help more than 31,300 adults quit, stop 19,200 youth from starting to smoke cigarettes or e-cigarettes, and prevent 4,000 infants from being born with complications due to mothers smoking during pregnancy.

Funds generated will provide medical coverage of low-income individuals and families on OHP, help stabilize health insurance costs, and support tobacco cessation and prevention programs. Furthermore, Oregon would receive long-term health care cost savings of more than $1 billion dollars per year.

Tobacco and nicotine addiction continue to cost Oregonians their lives and cause serious health problems, while adding hundreds of millions of dollars to our health care costs. The new generation of e-cigarettes are not safe either and pose health serious hazards, especially to youth and young adults, who increasingly use e-cigarettes. 

It’s time for Oregon lawmakers to stand up to the powerful tobacco industry that has been targeting our communities for decades. Passing Oregon House Bill 2270 will reduce the use of tobacco and e-cigarettes, save lives, pay for health care costs, and help provide health care for vulnerable children and working families.

I urge you to contact your legislator and join me in asking them to vote “Yes” on House Bill 2270 to reduce the toll big tobacco takes on Oregonians’ health and our state budget. 

Kenneth Hart is president, Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario.

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