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Vape shops face impending doom with tobacco tax

Smokeless Solutions owner Jason Weber said a tobacco tax bill passed by the Oregon House on Thursday has the potential to spell doom for vape shops in Oregon.

Douglas County Health Officer Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer said the measure, which subjects e-cigarettes and other vaping products to the 65 percent wholesale tax imposed on other non-cigarette tobacco products, serves as a deterrent for smokers and addresses vaping as a public health concern.

House Bill 2270 now goes to the Senate for consideration and, if passed, will ultimately be referred to voters for approval. A walkout by Senate Republicans this week threatens to derail the legislation.

The cigarette tax would rise to $3.33 per pack, from the current $1.33, in line with Washington and California and raise the cap on cigar taxes.

Weber has been watching the bill intently, even driving to Salem to testify on behalf of vape shops throughout Oregon. Employees at Smokeless Solutions are mentally preparing for the Roseburg store to close if the tobacco tax passes.

“I think that it has the potential to put all of the Oregon shops out of business,” Weber said. “I will probably end up just moving to another state that has a more reasonable tax and having to shut my doors. We already struggle with internet sales. Oregon is going to shoot themselves in the foot.”

Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Winston, said he would support the bill if it would be referred to voters.

“The main point is that we’ve already seen a lot of tax increases through the democratic administration that is running every level of government in the state,” Heard said. “None of those tax increases that they put through goes before the voters to decide. The reason that I was even open to this referral of a tobacco tax was because it comes with a lot of federal matching funds.”

Heard said for every dollar the tax raises, it will bring in just under $3 from the federal government.

The bill is projected to generate $346 million per biennium for Medicaid, but was also proposed as a public health initiative. Dannenhoffer said pairing smoke taxes and Medicaid works out as a deterrent for smokers, which then reduces the cost of medical expenses overall.

“One in three people who smoke will die or be seriously injured from their smoking, so it really is a public health concern,” Dannenhoffer said. “Vaping is a public health concern because of addiction to nicotine. We think all addictions have issues. Vaping is an issue because it’s a relatively new thing and we don’t know if there are going to be long-term negative effects of this level of nicotine. We generally apply taxes to other things that are addictive.”

With 31.5% of adults smoking in Douglas County, according to the Oregon Health Association, Douglas County is in the top third of Oregon counties for percentage of smokers. Between 2013 and 2016, Douglas County had over 199 preventable deaths attributed to tobacco-related diseases.

Weber doesn’t believe that vaping should be considered a public health concern, much like cigarettes. Weber was a cigarette smoker for 14 years and when he wanted to quit eight years ago, vaping was the only thing that worked.

“It’s proven that vaping is the most successful thing to help adults quit smoking,” Weber said while pointing to his website. “Why would they come attack us for such a little amount when we’re the best chance of making smoking not the leading preventable cause of death? My job is to help people stop smoking.”

Tobacco-related diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases cost Oregon more than $1.4 billion in healthcare costs according to the Oregon Health Authority. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States.

Weber is also the founder of Vape Crusaders, an informational organization that promotes vaping as a way to quit smoking. According to a study from the Royal College of Physicians, vaping is “at least 95%” safer than smoking cigarettes.”

He opened the store in 2015 and shortly after, added what he calls the “death bucket” where customers can throw all of their old cigarettes and tobacco products, sometimes in containers as big as a five-pound bag of flour.

“When someone comes in and they want to quit smoking, if they have cigarettes left, which they usually do, I don’t care if it’s one left in the pack, if they throw it in there, we give them $5 off of their setup,” Weber said. “That way, they leave here relying just on their vaporizer instead of cigarettes because it’s human nature, if you have both, when you get stressed out at some point, you’re going to go for what you’ve done for years. It keeps people from getting stuck in that habit.”

About 38 packs of cigarettes were sold per capita in Oregon in 2017, which is down from 98 in 1993, according to the Oregon Health Authority.

Vape pens are not certified cessation devices with the Food and Drug Administration, which Dannenhoffer said is a sign that vaping is not everything the supporters claim it is.

“On one hand, there may be some people who are using vaping to get off cigarettes, so it’s possible that that happens,” Dannenhoffer said. “On the other hand, there is some data that people may vape then also start smoking. If it was really being used as a cessation product, you would see it in drug stores and with prescriptions.”

Weber and the studies linked on his website claim vaping is not a gateway to smoking.

Weber’s sales distributor, Jordan Silva said he refused to smoke despite a stressful work environment in Northern California.

He said his family has a history of alcohol abuse and he grew up with parents who smoked, so he refused to go down either of those paths. Vaping was the only thing that helped his dad never want to touch a cigarette again.

“I turned to vaping as the opportunity to get my satisfaction without having to put all the chemicals that cigarettes have into my body,” Silva said.

Silva said he’s gone all in on Weber’s mission to inform people about how vaping has helped them and their customers. He said if the tax is sent to the voters and passed into law, he will move wherever Weber moves the shop.

“This is the first job I’ve had where I’m actually making a difference,” Silva said. “Here, I’m able to help people and it will affect them long-term. I want to stay in vaping and I want to continue helping people. It’s all about education.”

If approved by voters, the law would go into effect in 2021.

UCC nursing program received eight-year approval from state board

The registered nursing program at Umpqua Community College has been certified by the Oregon State Board of Nursing for eight years.

April Myler, UCC director of nursing, said the achievement came from nothing less than a team effort.

“It doesn’t just happen here, on this floor or in this building. It’s a campus wide achievement,” Myler said.

A site visit took place April 8-10 and included multiple interviews with students, faculty, administrators and clinical site representatives. The preliminary report was received immediately after the visit, to recommend the maximum eight-year state certification. A final decision was made on June 13 by OSBN when it unanimously accepted the recommendation.

“I feel very excited and I feel very relieved,” Myler said. “Receiving eight years is a testament to all the hard work that has been done within this team and then further out into campus with administration and even behind the scenes.”

The UCC nursing program chose to forego national accredidation early in 2018.

UCC Dean of Career Technical Education Jason Aase acknowledged the science department for helping students achieve prerequisites to into the nursing program.

The program received a three-year accreditation during its previous renewal in 2016.

In a summary of the site survey, Myler was commended for her effective leadership, the program was praised was its cohesiveness, and Aase received compliments on his administrative leadership and approval of work hours during the summer.

Myler said Oregon has a fairly rigorous policy on nursing.

“The wonderful thing about the Oregon State Board of Nursing is they will tell you where you’re doing well and they’ll tell you where you need to make improvements and they’re not shy about that, but they are kind. They really want to see nursing programs succeed,” Myler said. “Instead of just saying you need to do this, you can also call them and communicate with them and they will help you to find resources and what it is you might need to reach your goals.”

There were five recommendations made: Posting a Health Sciences organizational chart online, adding a full-time clinical coordinator, hiring nursing faculty at a higher step for recruitment and retention, equalizing the support staff pay scale to promote retention, and writing into policy the expectation of peer review evaluations.

“Recommendations, if not mended, can turn into deficiencies,” Myler said. “We need to show a good faith effort of meeting these before they come and visit us next time.”

Some of the recommendations have already been remedied, including an online organizational chart and a peer-to-peer evaluation in the policy.

Aase said adding the organizational chart online “was an easy fix, which may have been accomplished before she left campus.”

Increase in wages and adding faculty will require more meetings, but will be brought to the attention of administrators.

Myler said a team worked to put together an evidence room, where records were kept.

“This evidence had binders created for all of the Oregon administrative rules, to make it very easy on our site visitor,” Myler said. “She was able find exactly what she needed based on what section of those rules when she was evaluating.”

Student input in the program has also increased with a representative and vice-representative for both first and second-year students. Those representatives meet every two weeks with faculty and staff to bridge a gap and address student needs.

In 2017 and 2018, the program had a pass rate of 90% or more, compared to a national average around 85%.

CHI Mercy Medical Center made job offers to 30 of the 33 students immediately following 2019 graduation, according to Myler.

“They go above and beyond for the final practicum, which is the last term of nursing school, where our students have to be matched up one-to-one with an RN,” Myler said. “That also acts as a very long interview process for our students, many of which go to work on the same floor as the nurse that they worked with.”

Aase added that Mercy was also accommodating to nursing assistants when their previous placements fell through. “It was a very positive experience,” Aase said. “It speaks to the caliber of the courses run by one of our full-time instructors and also our students, and Mercy. They welcomed them with open arms.”

UCC also offers students the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree online through Oregon Health Science University.

Myler took advantage of this program after she graduated from UCC in 2008. She graduated from OHSU in 2009, started working at UCC the following year, received her master’s in 2015 and became the director in 2016.

“I wanted from Day 1 to be teacher,” Myler said. “Then I learned you could be a nurse and a teacher at the same time.”

The next site visit will be in April 2027, but that doesn’t mean the work stops for Myler and Aase.

“We take a lot of pride in how much student input is used in continuing student success and growth,” Myler said. “I think that’s been one of the major factors for our success, listening to who is going through the program ... It’s been such a wonderful way to bridge the gap.”

They’re currently working with students to improve the new student orientation and make it more welcoming.

Mike Henneke/The News-Review  

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Tom Medler pressure washes the cement in front of the Roseburg Elks Lodge on Southeast Jackson Street on Saturday. Members of the Elks Lodge decided to spruce up their facility in conjunction with the downtown cleanup sponsored by Project Blue Zones-Umpqua and the Downtown Roseburg Association.

Tangled lawsuits toil through three different courts

A lawsuit filed by ATRIO Health Plans in Salem for more than $60 million has been moved to U.S. District Court in Eugene. The dispute may be headed back to Marion County, and could even end up in Douglas County.

In the convoluted series of court maneuvers, Optima LLC, a small Roseburg company, represented by Eugene attorney Randy Turnbow, filed a breach of contract suit in Douglas County Circuit Court on Sept. 23, 2018, against ATRIO. The complaint alleges ATRIO did not pay the licensing fee for the 1 1/2 years that were left on a three-year contract when ATRIO canceled the agreement between the two organizations. Optima provides custom software services upon request, under the business name of “inteligenz.” That lawsuit asks for $1.4 million.

The Douglas County suit claims that ATRIO “breached the master software license and technical services agreement” with Optima by failing to make any payments after January 2018.

ATRIO, which was founded in Roseburg and has since moved its headquarters to Salem, alleged in a separate suit filed in Marion County in May that Performance Health Technology of Salem, a company that provides claims processing and related services, breached the contract and provided negligent services. In that same suit, ATRIO claims that Optima provided defective services.

ATRIO claims in the suit that it lost nearly $29 million, and that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid was overbilled by almost $31 million, coming from the contractor’s errors. which resulted in billing Medicare for patient services that are not covered. The lawsuit alleges that Optima’s software failed to catch numerous errors by PH Tech.

PH Tech processes information to send to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid for bills and claims.

On May 24, the Marion County case was moved to federal court in Eugene. But a motion has since been filed by ATRIO to move the case back to Marion County Circuit Court in Salem. However, a ruling on that motion is not expected for several weeks.

Cascade Comprehensive Care Inc. of Klamath Falls, Mid-Valley IPA Inc. of Salem, and Umpqua Health LLC in Roseburg are listed as co-plaintiffs in that suit.

Meanwhile, Turnbow has filed a motion for Optima asking to dismiss ATRIO’s claims arguing that the Douglas County case takes priority because it was filed first. He also plans to file for summary judgement on the claims of three shareholders in federal court. If the case gets sent back to Marion County, that court will decide those issues.

A hearing on the Douglas County case in Roseburg is set for Tuesday in Judge Francis Burge’s Douglas County Circuit Courtroom.