The failure for the state Legislature to pass State House Bill 3210, which would place a $1.50 tax per pack on cigarettes is being criticized by the American Cancer Society and other health advocacy groups.
“Oklahoma lawmakers missed an extraordinary opportunity to save 18,000 lives and raise millions in desperately-needed funds, simply by raising the tax on cigarettes. By increasing the price of cigarettes by $1.50, lawmakers could have reduced tobacco use, saved on health care costs, and generated nearly $184 million in revenue for the state,” stated the ACA Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
As the state faces a $1.3 billion budget shortfall, the tax was meant to bolster a Medicaid system in need of funds. This funding would aid in the treatment for Medicaid patients, nursing home residents and impact rural health care.
Democrats voted unanimously against HB 3210 to defeat the measure that would have raised $180 million.
“I don’t have a Plan B,” Republican House Speaker Jeff Hickman said in a news conference last week. “The Plan B is nursing homes close, hospitals close, mental health providers go away, DHS services go away. That is Plan B if we’re not able to reach a solution.”
The plan had been backed by Gov. Mary Fallin.
Democrats refused to support the measure in an attempt to pressure Republicans to restructure Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act.
“A solid tax increase like this one would have ensured tobacco companies could not coupon and discount their way out of a significant increase in the cost of smoking,” the ACA and the other advocacy groups continued. “When the price goes up, our most vulnerable populations — kids, pregnant women and low-income people — are the most motivated to quit. A $1.50 per pack cigarette tax increase is estimated to prevent nearly 32,000 Oklahoma kids from starting smoking, prompt nearly as many adults to quit and prevent approximately 18,000 tobacco-related deaths.
“The legislature could have achieved two goals with one action, but they failed.”