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Oklahoma’s cigarette tax has accomplished top goal, health advocates say

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- A cigarette tax increase endorsed by voters in 2004 has accomplished its top goal of getting Oklahomans to stop smoking and shouldn't be tinkered with, health advocates said Monday.

Pat Marshall of the American Cancer Society and Wes Glinsmann of the American Heart Association testified before a House committee headed by Rep. Kevin Calvey, D-Del City.

They said the tax has led to more than 30,000 Oklahomans giving up cigarettes, 40 percent to 50 percent more than expected. The estimate is based on a study conducted on behalf of the Center for Disease Control.

Glinsmann, who also represents the Oklahoma Alliance on Health or Tobacco, said he was glad to hear Calvey recently say he did not expect a legislative attempt to repeal the tax increase, which is providing money for a cancer center, health insurance subsidies for small businesses and improved trauma care.

Repealing or cutting the tax would be a betrayal of voters and send "a horrible message" at a time when thousands of Oklahomans are improving their health by turning away from tobacco, he said.

Glinsmann said the tax issue is separate from the controversy over compacts with Indian tribes, which have been blamed for a big shift in sales from non-tribal retailers to tribal smokeshops, especially in the Tulsa area.

State officials say several smokeshops are violating compacts with the state and buying cigarettes with the lowest tax stamp, which are supposed to be allowed only in counties that border other states.

Calvey and other lawmakers have criticized compacts with Indian tribes that were signed by Gov. Brad Henry.

Doug Allen, Oklahoma Tax Commission general counsel, said because Indian tribes are sovereign, the commission lacks enforcement powers on Indian land. He also frowned on passing laws to bolster enforcement.

"This isn't the Legislature for the Cherokees or any other tribe," he said.

The ultimate long-term solution is "voluntary compliance," through negotiations with the tribes, Allen said.

He said the commission had asked the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency for help in cracking down on the distribution of "contraband" cigarettes, but had not heard back from the ATF.
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