Tobacco settlement coughs up $4 million to fight smoking in Oregon

Tobacco settlement coughs up $4 million to fight smoking in Oregon
(Wikimedia Commons photo © 2005 by Tomasz Sienicki)

Oregon is getting a $4 million boost from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to fight youth smoking, the first time funds from the settlement are actually being used in the state to fight tobacco use.

“This will translate into being able to have greater reach and intensity for offering cessation services and education about the dangers of tobacco,” said Karen Girard, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease section manager for the Oregon Health Authority.

In 1998, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement became the largest legal settlement in U.S. history, involving 46 states and the largest tobacco companies. The industry agreed to pay states in perpetuity to prevent youth smoking and compensate for tobacco-related diseases. That amounted to $246 billion over the first 25 years, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Oregon got its first funding from the agreement in 2003 but locked it up for 10 years in debt service to get out of its budget crisis. The agreement didn’t absolutely require the funds to be spent on anti-tobacco programs.

Cut to 2013, when the use of the funds for debt service ended. A coalition of public-health related groups began to push for at least some of the funding to be directed toward the Oregon Tobacco Prevention Education Program, which has been funded by a tobacco tax.

The tax raised $15.8 million from 2011 to 2013, but was cut to $13.5 million. Leading the charge for master settlement funding to be directed to the program was Stephanie Tama-Sweet, director of government relations for the Oregon division of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

The coalition asked for $12 million, or 10 percent, of the more than $120 million in funds available from the settlement agreement. The Legislature ended up allocating $4 million, which will be available next April.

“It’s not what we wanted but it is still a good start,” Tama-Sweet said.

As for the rest of the master settlement funding, $116 million is being directed to Coordinated Care Organizations and $4 million to physical education grants.

“Rather than spending it on debt service, we’ve invested it in health,” Tama-Sweet said.

Altogether, the state will have nearly $20 million over the next two years to spend on preventing kids from smoking and helping others who have already started.

Still, the funding level is far less than what the Centers for Disease Control recommends for Oregon, which is $43 million a year. Only two states fund their programs at the CDC-recommended levels, Alaska and North Dakota.

In this fiscal year, states will collect $25.7 billion in revenue from the settlement and tobacco taxes but will spend only 1.8 percent of it on programs to prevent kids from smoking and help smokers quit, according to Tobacco-Free Kids.

The Portland Business Journal is a KATU news partner.