It may be time for Oklahoma to kick its nicotine addiction

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: August 29, 2013

WHEN is good news also bad news? When people stop engaging in unhealthy behaviors that state government relies on for funding.

The dramatic decline in smoking in Oklahoma last year is good news for public health, but signals that state government may have to wean itself off tobacco tax much faster than anticipated. Figures released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate 23.3 percent of Oklahoma residents smoked in 2012, down from 26.1 percent in 2011.

Oklahoma now ranks 39th nationally for its rate of adult smoking. That doesn't sound so great until you consider that Oklahoma ranked an abysmal 47th just last year.

Although users shifting to e-cigarettes may artificially increase the decline, CDC and census data indicate there were about 75,000 fewer adult smokers in Oklahoma in 2012 than 2011. The percentage of Oklahomans who've never smoked rose from 49.2 percent to 52.4 percent, an increase of about 100,000 people. The percentage who smoke every day fell from 19.9 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2012. This is reason to celebrate.

But for Oklahoma government, smoking reduction translates into less revenue. There were 14 million fewer cigarette tax stamps sold last year, a 5.2 percent drop. In the past decade, the number of cigarette packs sold has decreased by 100 million overall, according to the Health Department.

We have long noted government can do more with less, and in many cases it should simply do less. But tobacco taxes are now embedded in the foundations of many government programs.

The first 23 cents in tax on each pack of cigarettes goes to the state's sinking fund to repay bonds. The revenue generated by an 80-cent increase that voters approved in 2004 supports multiple health uses, general government expenditures and local governments. Seventeen percent of the 80-cent tobacco tax increase goes to the state general revenue fund, which can be tapped for a wide range of uses, including schools, public safety and roads. Another 14 percent of the 80-cent tax increase goes to counties and cities to replace a sales tax repealed in 2004.

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