Coalition proposes $1 tobacco tax increase in Oklahoma

Wednesday, January 21st 2004, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A $1 increase in the tax on cigarettes was proposed Wednesday by a coalition of anti-tobacco groups who said making tobacco more expensive will reduce smoking, save lives and raise up to $200 million a year for the state.

The tobacco tax increase, which died in the Legislature last year, is favored by two-thirds of Oklahoma voters to reduce smoking among children and pay for health care, according to the results of a statewide survey performed for the Oklahoma Alliance on Health or Tobacco.

``Raising the tobacco tax by $1 is a win-win-win for Oklahoma,'' said Joy L. Leuthard, head of the alliance.

The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids estimates that increasing the tax would stop 53,000 kids from becoming smokers and prevent 16,900 kids from premature deaths, said Dr. Robert McCaffree, past chairman of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund.

``Raising the price of tobacco will reduce the use of tobacco,'' said McCaffree, a pulmonary physician.

``We want to prevent children from starting to smoke,'' said Dr. Mike Crutcher, Oklahoma's health commissioner.

Crutcher said tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma and that 9,000 children become regular daily smokers each year.

``Every year tobacco takes the lives of 5,700 of our fellow Oklahomans,'' he said.

A recent survey of 508 registered voters indicated that a $1 increase is supported by a majority of Oklahomans. The survey had a margin of error of 3.5 percent.

However, the tobacco tax increase has been stymied in the Legislature in part due to opposition from lobbyists for the tobacco industry, which opposes increasing the tobacco excise tax, Crutcher said.

``We need to be very persistent in our efforts,'' the health commissioner said.

Oklahoma's excise tax on cigarettes is .23 and has not been increased since 1987. The state ranks 42nd in the nation in the amount of its tobacco tax.

Tobacco-related health care costs equate to more than $2.40 for each pack of cigarettes that is sold in the state, the anti-tobacco coalition said.

Danny McGoldrick, research director for the for the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said 32 states have increased their tobacco tax in the past two years and that each state has seen a decline in tobacco use.

``We'll also start reducing health care costs,'' McGoldrick said.

In Kansas, where the excise tax rose to .79 last year, cigarette sales declined 21.7 percent and revenue increased $122.2 million, according to statistics prepared by the coalition.

Increasing Oklahoma's excise tax to $1 will raise up to $200 million in new revenue each year, depending upon how the state negotiates compacts with Indian tribes who operate smoke shops, McGoldrick said.

``The higher the price, the more kids you will prevent from starting to smoke,'' Crutcher said.

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