Vaughn Offers Several Measures Hitting Tobacco Users

Article excerpt

State Rep. Ray Vaughn announced Wednesday that he will seek passage of state laws to increase cigarette taxes by $1 per pack, mandate smoke-free work sites and increase the penalties for retailers who sell tobacco to minors.

Joined by a group of health care advocates representing 26 organizations, Vaughn, R-Edmond, said he wants the tax increase and retailer penalties placed on the next general election ballot for a vote of the people.

That means the measures may not receive a vote until November 2004, unless a statewide election is scheduled to vote on a lottery. However, Gov. Brad Henry said he will seek a statewide vote on the lottery by the end of the summer.

Vaughn called the cigarette tax a "voluntary tax," and noted that Oklahoma's current rate of 23 cents per pack has been in place since 1987. At that time, Oklahoma had the 14th-highest state cigarette tax in the country, but now it ranks 37th in the nation.

If Vaughn's proposed increase is enacted, Oklahoma will have the eighth-highest cigarette tax in the country.

He said the measure could reap an additional $185.7 million per year, which would be earmarked for health care funding in his resolution.

Vaughn noted that 25 states have raised taxes on cigarettes in the last year and 15 states now charge taxes of $1 per pack or higher. Oklahoma's tax would be $1.23 per pack if Vaughn's proposal is enacted.

He also said research indicates that 80,000 Oklahomans would stop smoking if the tax was increased dramatically, noting that roughly 75 percent of smokers surveyed say they have tried to quit in the last year.

Past efforts to raise the cigarette tax have failed because retailers argue that tribal smoke shops would have a huge competitive advantage since they do not have to charge the tax. However, officials said that may not hold true for long.

"We expect (tribal) compacts to be renegotiated," Vaughn said. …