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As tobacco experience shows, tax increases affect peoples' behavior

by The Oklahoman Editorial Board Published: October 2, 2012

PRESIDENT Barack Obama and other liberals believe tax increases won't change citizens' behavior and harm the national economy. Consumer response to cigarette taxes proves them wrong.

Oklahoma's cigarette tax was increased by 80 cents to $1.03 per pack in 2004, but compacts allowed nearly one in five tribal smoke shops to collect only 6 cents per pack in tax. This translated into a price advantage of as much as $10 per carton over nontribal retailers and led to a massive shift in buying habits. Although there were fewer than 200 tribal smoke shops and roughly 4,500 nontribal outlets selling tobacco, American Indian smoke shops soon accounted for nearly 50 percent of cigarette sales in Oklahoma (and as much as 70 percent of the Tulsa market). By 2006, it was estimated Oklahoma government was losing roughly $48 million per year in tobacco tax collections because of the shift.

Such glaring price/tax differences also create a black market for tobacco products, as was highlighted again last week when federal officials seized more than $266,000 from the bank account of a tobacco company owned by the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma and detained a tobacco wholesaler in New York. The multi-state investigation centers on alleged trafficking of Oklahoma cigarettes to New York, where the cigarette tax is $4.35 per pack.

Obviously, there's a difference between choosing to legally buy lower-tax cigarettes at a specific outlet and operating a black market. Still, the message is clear: Tax rates impact behavior. That's something President Obama and Washington liberals don't seem to understand.

Unless the president and Congress act soon, we are now less than 100 days from what some are calling “Taxmageddon,” the date that the Bush-era tax cuts expire. If this occurs as scheduled, Americans at all income levels will take a hit. The income tax rate will jump from 35 to 39.6 percent for top earners (which includes countless small-business owners) while those in the lowest income bracket will have their tax rate increased by 50 percent.

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by The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Gary Pierson, President and CEO of The Oklahoma Publishing Company; Christopher P. Reen, president and publisher of The Oklahoman; Kelly Dyer Fry, editor and vice president of news; Christy Gaylord...
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