Doctors join governor in support of cigarette tax vote

Monday, February 9th 2004, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two dozen health care officials, mostly doctors in white coats, joined Gov. Brad Henry at a news conference Monday to push for a statewide vote on a cigarette tax increase.

Henry wants to increase the cigarette tax by a net of 52 cents per pack to raise $130 million. The money would go to providing health care coverage to 200,000 uninsured Oklahomans, building a cancer research center and upgrading the state trauma care system.

The governor said he wanted to spotlight the strong support his plan has from the medical community and clear up ``misconceptions'' about the proposal.

He said there is a need to ``keep the pressure on'' in the Legislature to ensure lawmakers permit voters to have their say on the plan this year.

``The rising cost of health care is a significant challenge for every state in the nation,'' Henry said. ``The difference between the majority of states and Oklahoma is they have taken bold action to address their problems and we haven't. We should give Oklahoma voters the opportunity to decide whether they want to improve their health care system and cut youth smoking in the process.''

Dr. Jack Beller, president of the Oklahoma Medical Association, said if current trends continue, ``an estimated 77,000 Oklahoma kids who are alive today will die from tobacco use.''

``This is roughly equivalent to the entire graduating classes in all of Oklahoma for both 2004 and 2005,'' Beller said.

He said a cigarette tax increase would be ``a giant step toward reversing the deplorable condition of our state's health.''

Joy Leuthard, chairwoman of the Oklahoma Alliance on Health or Tobacco, said a poll commissioned by her organization showed 70 percent of Oklahoma voters ``support this user fee to protect our youth.''

Henry said he did not intend to have the cigarette tax plan used as ``a bargaining chip'' in the legislative process.

He disputed inferences by some lawmakers that passage would of the cigarette tax increase would drive smokers to tribal smokeshops.

He said the new tax, by eliminating local and state sales taxes amounting to 25 cents per pack, would reduce the advantage tribal smokeshops now have in cigarette sales.

That's because tribes now do not have to collect and remit sales taxes, while non-tribal retailers do.

Dr. Dewayne Andrews, dean of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center, said the proposal will provide seed money for a bond issue for badly needed cancer research facilities in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

He said Oklahomans now have to travel to Houston to receive new and innovative cancer treatment.