Oregon lawmakers in the House approved a measure on Thursday that could end up raising taxes on cigarettes.

Rep. Rachel Prusak, D-Tualatin, a nurse practitioner, said the bill represents a “thoughtful and common sense tool for making sure tobacco use is no longer the leading cause of preventable death in our state.”

The measure was approved 39-20 and now heads to the Senate.

The bill, HB 2270, has a provision requiring it be referred to voters on the November 2020 ballot, should it pass the Senate. All legislation is currently in danger of dying if Senate Republicans, who have staged a walkout, decide to stay out of the Capitol.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle raised concerns about the measure.

Rep. Sherrie Sprenger, R-Scio, said she loathes cigarette smoking and faults it for her mother’s death. But, she said, she doesn’t believe those who think a higher tax would deter people from smoking.

For her family, she said, who already struggled financially, “it just impacted our budget.”

Rep. Paul Evans, D-Monmouth, expressed concern about the regressive nature of the tax. He voted for it, he said, only because voters would have a chance to weigh in and money would go toward addressing mental health needs.

“I do think we need to be careful that … we don’t shift costs and make it even harder on working families,” he said, adding it’s time lawmakers also consider adding a higher sin tax on “cool” products like wine and whiskey.

Here is what the measure aims to do:

  • Raise taxes on cigarettes from $1.33 per pack to $3.33 per pack, bringing Oregon roughly in line with taxes in Washington and California.
  • Raises a 50-cent cap to $1 on taxes for premium cigars.
  • Subject e-cigarettes and other vaping products to the 65% wholesale tax currently imposed on other non-cigarette tobacco products.

The bill specifies that some money raised from the tax increase could be spent on mental health care and on smoking-related health problems among disproportionately impacted groups.

The bill is expected to generate $350 million in 2021-23 budget if it goes into effect in December 2020. It’s expected to raise nearly $350 million two years after that.

OPB Reporter Dirk VanderHart contributed to this report.