Simply put, tobacco kills. It is the leading cause of preventable death in Oregon. And at Upstream we are working hard to end these needless deaths. Since almost all smokers start when they are just kids, much of our work focuses on preventing youth from starting use of tobacco and addictive nicotine products.
Why It Matters
As long as tobacco related illnesses are the #1 cause of preventable death in Oregon – it will be a priority for Upstream. The best way to end deaths from tobacco is to prevent youth from picking up this deadly habit. According to the American Lung Association, the TRUE cost of a pack of cigarettes to the community is $18.83 when you include the healthcare costs and lost productivity of tobacco users who get sick or die. The Upstream board and staff are also concerned that the tobacco industry fights against good tobacco policy with their big bucks. The industry has been found guilty of racketeering, lying under oath, and countless other criminal acts. How do we win against this industry? We organize. Advocates have to be strategic, coordinated, have a winning plan, and the funding to implement it. Over 80% of Oregon smokers report they want to quit. And many have. Upstream believes it is a moral imperative that we do what we know works, to prevent the harm caused by this addictive and deadly product.
What We’re Doing
Upstream works with the Oregon Health Equity Alliance, the Oregon Partners for Tobacco Prevention, and local jurisdictions to develop innovative options to decrease tobacco related death, disability, and the crippling economic burden that tobacco causes. We want a public record of where tobacco products are sold – retail licensure, as its called, is already the law of the land in most states. You need a license to cut someone’s hair but you don’t need a license to sell tobacco. We know where other regulated products such as guns and alcohol are being sold, but we don’t know where cigarettes are being sold. Most smokers started before they reached 18. In our conversations with young adults we are learning that increasing the age limit to 21 would help our young people avoid future tobacco related illness.
What You Can Do
How do we win against a powerful industry? It takes a village of dedicated advocates just like you to stand up and speak your truth. Join us.
Our Successes So Far
Upstream Public Health believes it is critical to promote a sensible licensing system for tobacco sellers that limits access to minors, consistently enforces all laws, and reduces unintended consequences on individual retailers and individuals.Unfortunately, Oregon has been found to have the highest rates of sales to minors in the country, according to a recent SYNAR report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An estimated 22% of retailers were found to sell tobacco products to minors.
Upstream has been working with the Oregon Health Equity Alliance and other partners to urge both state legislators and county commissioners to take action in creating a strong licensing system. We worked with partners in conducting a tobacco retail assessment to understand what types of tobacco and nicotine products are being sold. We built on this with a health equity impact assessment to understand how tobacco retail licensing policy impact retailers, consumers, and communities alike.
Upstream also coordinated a campaign to approve a licensing system in Multnomah County. On November 12, the Multnomah County Commission unanimously approved a tobacco retail licensing system for the county, taking a major step forward to reduce access to tobacco products for minors. Upstream is also currently advocating for a state system for tobacco retail licensure.
Upstream was in support of the 2013 Bill dedicating 10% of available Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (TMSA) funds toward tobacco prevention to keep cigarettes and other tobacco products out of the hands of our kids. Oregon has received $124 million of TMSA funds in the 2013 legislative session—$4 million to tobacco prevention, $4 million for physical education, and $116 million to CCOs - which Oregon has maintained through 2015. In addition, Oregon received $34 million in State General Funds, $30 million of which will go to Health System transformation for CCOs and $4 million to school-based health centers.
In 2007, Oregon tobacco advocates won a huge tobacco victory when the state legislature passed a strong smoke-free workplace law, in essence providing smoke-free bars, restaurants, and other places where people work. Eliminating the threat of second hand smoke in Oregon has saved many lives and could be considered one of the most significant public health victories this decade.