May 21, 2001 11:00 pm

Someone is attempting to tamper with Oregons commitment to reducing tobacco use among our citizens. Three bills have been introduced in the Legislature that would undermine Measure 44, which Oregonians approved in 1996 to fund education efforts to battle the insidious nature of the tobacco industry and its addictive products.

The Oregon House has approved a bill that would disallow communities from passing smoking bans in bars, and it would roll back laws already in place even those approved by voters. HB 3953 was approved by a vote of 35-24, mostly along party lines with Republicans in the majority.

Another bill passed 37-23 by the House, HB 3874, would prohibit advocacy on anti-smoking ordinances at the local level.

The two bills virtually eliminate local involvement in anti-smoking efforts. So go figure about a third bill. HB 3542 would require the Oregon Health Division to pass through all tobacco prevention and education funds directly to county governments. It would eliminate the statewide media campaign, grants to schools programs that have had a noticeable effect on reducing tobacco use.

Does all of this sound like the tobacco industry at work in Oregon trying to dismantle the states tobacco education efforts?

A coalition of the American Cancer Society and American Lung Association has uncovered a strategy put forth in California that appears similar to whats going on in Oregon. The strategy, California: A Multifaceted Plan to Address the Negative Environment, was prepared by the Tobacco Institute in 1991.

The strategy, although prepared prior to the tobacco settlement, presents a plan that is eerily similar to the three bills in the Oregon Legislature.

Under terms of the tobacco settlement, the industry is barred from directly participating in lobbying efforts. But rather than forego a strategy to counter Oregons anti-smoking efforts, the industry had to find a group to carry its agenda. It appears that the industrys shill is the Oregon Restaurant Association.

The ORA carried the ball on the repeal of local smoking bans and has testified in support of the others. Coincidentally, the restaurant association contributed $124,000 to the campaigns of the legislators who supported HB 3953. Those who voted against the bill had received $13,500 from the association.

Something smells worse than stale tobacco in the halls of the Legislature. Someone is jerking the chains of some legislators who appear more interested in serving the interests of their campaign contributors than working in the best interests of their constituents.

Legislators need to consider who and what are driving specific legislation. The ORAs involvement in tobacco-related issues is suspect and should raise red flags among our lawmakers.