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Director's Column: Increasing Price of Cigarettes Still Has Merit

Last week’s ruling by the State Supreme Court that the cigarette price increase was unconstitutional is disappointing, but it’s important to note that the court’s decision was based on how the price increase was enacted, not the value or worth of increasing the price of cigarettes. The court ruled that the bill did not meet constitutional requirements because it was passed in the finals days of the legislative session, and appeared to be a revenue bill.

We respect the Supreme Court’s ruling that price increase contained in Senate Bill 845 does not meet the constitutional requirements. We encourage policy makers to continue to seek statewide solutions to prevent and reduce tobacco use. Those measures include increasing the price of cigarettes, closing loopholes in Oklahoma’s clean indoor air laws that still allow workers to be exposed to toxic secondhand smoke and repealing a state law that forbids cities from passing local ordinances on tobacco use within city limits.

Yet, the experiences of other states, and even history in Oklahoma shows that a meaningful increase in the price of cigarettes is an effective way to reduce youth smoking, encourage smokers to quit, and save lives. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disability in our state.

In Oklahoma, we are making progress in reducing smoking, but tobacco use is costing our state. In Oklahoma, 22.2 percent of adults smoke, while the national average is 17.5 percent. Smoking doesn’t just cost the smoker. We all pay. We lose time with those we love. Smoking costs us $1.62 billion annually in related healthcare costs, $2.1 billion in lost productivity, and each Oklahoma household is paying $899 a year – whether they smoke or not.

TSET, which does not receive proceeds from tobacco taxes, will continue to work to prevent and reduce tobacco use in our state. In the absence of a meaningful price increase that had the potential to reduce smoking among youth by nearly 15 percent, TSET’s work becomes even more vital in improving the health of Oklahomans and offsetting the toll of tobacco on Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline (1-800-QUIT-NOW), funded by TSET, will continue to offer free cessation coaching and nicotine replace therapy to Oklahomans, 24-hours-a-day, 7-days a week. TSET grants across the state will continue to work with cities, schools, businesses and community organizations to incorporate wellness strategies that promote healthy, tobacco-free workplaces.

TSET’s grants that work to recruit, train and retain physicians in rural areas will continue to provide opportunities for doctors to talk to patients about the harms of tobacco use and ensure that patients are aware of the free cessation resources available to them. TSET will continue use evidence-based health communications campaigns to educate Oklahomans on the harms of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. TSET will continue to fund groundbreaking research into the latest discoveries and treatment of tobacco-related cancers. 

 The tobacco industry will continue to fight these efforts to reduce smoking as it impacts their business model which relies on young people becoming addicted to their product and replacing people who smoke and die prematurely. In their own words during oral arguments, attorneys for the tobacco industry admitted that it is “undeniable” the cigarettes cause harm, and in legal filings wrote that a $1.50 increase would reduce the sale of cigarettes.

TSET remains committed preventing and reducing tobacco use in our state through comprehensive and accountable programs. To learn more about TSET’s work go to: http://tset.ok.gov/