I respectfully submit this opinion in the interest of an important public health matter:

Every day, health care professionals see the dangerous and real health consequences of nicotine addiction among children, young adults and parents who have tried and failed to quit vaping or smoking.

Oregon’s Measure 108 is essential to protect the health and future of our young people. Raising the price of nicotine vapes and tobacco products is the single-most effective way to prevent youth from starting to smoke or vape in the first place.

That’s why M108 is endorsed by Oregon hospitals, including Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, nurses, doctors, local businesses, community leaders, and more than 250 entities across the state.

Smoking kills nearly 8,000 Oregonians every year and is the number one cause of preventable death in Oregon. Nearly 9 out of 10 daily smokers try their first cigarette by age 18, and young people who vape are almost three times as likely to start smoking cigarettes. The availability of low-priced vaping products has led to an 80% increase in youth vaping from 2017 to 2019. Tobacco companies are selling vapes at corner stores for 99 cents and making them taste like gummy bears and cotton candy.

Smoking harms every organ system in the body. It causes cancers, strokes, and heart attacks, and can increase the severity of respiratory diseases. Youth who vape are more likely than their peers to be infected with COVID-19. Additionally, Smoking-related diseases and death disproportionately affect the poor, racial minorities, and the most vulnerable.

As it stands, Oregonians spend $1.5 billion per year on smoking-related health care costs. Health care experts drafted M108 knowing that increasing the tobacco tax would lower costs for everyone and a public, bipartisan committee wrote it to ensure the dollars would go to fund the Oregon Health Plan and smoking prevention and cessation programs. As the COVID pandemic goes on and more and more people are counting on the Oregon Health Plan, it’s essential that we do everything we can to prevent people from losing coverage. More than a million Oregonians count on OHP (including 400,000 children) and more than 10,000 Malheur County residents. Everyone deserves to see a doctor when they are sick without fear of bankruptcy and Measure 108 will help keep this essential service going.

Too many of our children and neighbors have been harmed by tobacco. It’s time to help save lives and create a healthier community. Please join me, and many other caring Oregonians, in voting YES on Measure 108 when you cast your ballot. It’s a great way to ensure a healthy future for our children and our entire community. For more information visit YesOn108.org.

Dina Ellwanger is the president and chief nursing officer at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center-Ontario. The views and opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily represent those of The Argus Observer.

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