Campaign to Raise Cigarette Taxes Reports Huge Fundraising Haul

The 2020 measure would tack $2 onto the cost of a pack of smokes.

The campaign to pass a $2-per-pack tobacco increase kicked off its race for the 2020 ballot yesterday with the announcement that it has already raised nearly $10 million. Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported the cash haul.

The exact total is $9.72 million, stemming from big checks from the state's leading hospital systems, including Providence Health & Services ($3.3 million), Legacy Health System ($1.73 million) and PeaceHealth ($1.1 million).

Oregon's current cigarette tax of $1.33 per pack is lower than the tax in many other states. Washington levies a $3.53 per pack tax and California, $3.46. Lawmakers referred the tax increase embedded in House Bill 2270 to voters, rather than taking the heat for passing it themselves.

The massive cash haul may be a nod to what happened last time voters got a look at a cigarette tax increase.

In that instance, Measure 50 in 2007, anti-smoking and healthcare advocates proposed raising the tax by 84.5 cents per pack. But the tobacco industry outspent them $12.1 million to $3.7 million and easily defeated the tax increase by a 59 percent to 41 percent margin.

"Our campaign started early and strong," said Melissa Busch, a nurse in Warren, Ore in a statement. "Big Tobacco has a history of spending millions in our state to deceive voters. Our campaign is backed by nurses, physicians, providers, non-profit healthcare organizations, and unions and we are going to stand united against Big Tobacco's misinformation campaign."

The tobacco industry hasn't yet formed a PAC to oppose the measure.