Tag Archive for 'healthy kids initiative'

Freedom Aint Free: Big Tobacco Purchases Oregon Voters for Record 12 Million

As many of you must know, Oregonians recently voted down a bill that would have provided health care to all 117,000 of Oregon’s uninsured children. While we’re at it, perhaps we should vote to club some baby seals. If I had voted against health care for children, I would have found it utterly impossible to explain my motives to a child.

In retrospect, I would like to offer something of an analysis of what happened. Some people hate kids. They are noisy, they seem to have extra snot, ect. Others claimed to find the goals of the bill agreeable, but were critical of its structure. It would have raised the cigarette tax by 84 and a half cents. In addition to arguing that this unfairly targets a specific segment of the population, I listened to a lobbyist argue that the bill unfavorably targets poor people, because poor people are statistically more likely to smoke (that’s right, he pretended that tobacco providers are advocating for the poor). A more devious neoliberal argument cited research that when the price of cigarettes is raised, people smoke less. In response it would be necessary to raise the tax in order to keep funding the same amount of health care, which would in turn lower the number of people smoking ad infinitum. This was portrayed as a bad thing, because the money would eventually run out. How terrible that we should finally find a way to help people smoke less or quit all together. A final point against the bill was that it would have created a constitutional amendment, a legislative act probably not very appropriate for this effort. Former Governor John Kitzhaber wrote a thoughtful discussion of some of these issues.

Those were the arguments, let’s take a step back and look at the motives. Big tobacco and the stores (mainly Plaid Pantry) who sell a lot of cigarettes in Oregon stood to lose a lot of money. They responded full force, spending a record 12 million dollars. Last year five states had similar measures, so tobacco lobby money was spread thin and 3 of the measure were passed. This year, all the national tobacco money came to Oregon. One commenter on Blue Oregon wrote

So if Oregon children aren’t going to get my tax money for health care…then the tobacco companies sure ain’t gettin’ it either… Let’s tell them that we’ll be keeping the next $12 million, thank you very much… Quitting has made me feel healthier, wealthier, and just a little happier every day, all thanks to (ironically) Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds. Thanks for playing your “defend the Constitution” fiddle out here in Oregon (referring to TV spots decrying the constitutional amendment)… just don’t mind the door as it hits you on the way back to N. Carolina/Virginia.

Last spring when I testified in favor of the Oregon Health Kids plan before a special joint committee of the Oregon House and Senate, the mood was cheery and hopeful for me and the 3 women (two of color, one with uninsured baby on lap) who testified in favor that day. The five 50’s and older white male professional lobbyists who testified immediately after me seemed almost frantic. Those lobbyists failed to sway the Oregon legislature, but Big Money from Big Tobacco did sway Oregonian voters.

The moral of the story is that freedom most certainly aint free. It cost more than 12 million dollars to purchase freedom this time around. Remember this story next time you get ready to head to the ballot box, and consider looking into who is funding the campaigns in favor and against, what they have to loose/gain, and how those campaigns have influenced your voting behavior.




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