OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KSWO) -State lawmakers are considering a cigarette tax to help them close a $1.3 billion hole in next year's budget, and potentially increase funding for education.
House Joint Resolution 1058 would let the people vote on adding a $1.50 tax to each pack of cigarettes. Supporters say it would raise about $180 million each year, and provide money for a $2,000 raise for Oklahoma teachers.
Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline says the money will also be put toward funding pediatric cancer research and fund Insure Oklahoma, which helps local businesses provide insurance for their workers. Cline says the tax is a deterrent to smoking, and is a way to make Oklahoma healthier.
"The primary reason to increase the price point on a pack of cigarettes is to decrease consumption of cigarettes in the state of Oklahoma. Cigarettes are the number one leading cause of death in Oklahoma and the United States, its killing a lot of people," Cline said.
Cline says 7,000 people die in Oklahoma each year due to tobacco-related illnesses. He also believes if this bill passes, it would reduce tobacco consumption by 10 percent in Oklahoma.
However, not everyone believes the $182 million this bill is intended to make will actually be made in the state. Lynn Mason, the owner of a Lawton convenience store, says he is concerned his customers will look elsewhere in order to find a better deal.
"I really don't believe it will affect the total amount of cigarettes purchased or consumed, but a large portion of those will go right down the highway to Burkburnett or to Texas because it will be $15 per carton cheaper," Mason said.
Tobacco is big business in the area, and if this bill passes it could really hurt sales.
"The average convenience store somewhere around 50 percent of their business is not just cigarettes, but tobacco related," Cline said.
But he does say he understands that when it comes to taxes money has to be made somewhere.
"Any tax is going to help someone and hurt someone, it is the job of our legislators to balance it," Mason said.
Mason was also concerned about whether or not the tribes will be taxed the same when it comes to this increase. Cline says everyone would be on the same playing field.
A House committee will take the first step Wednesday toward determining if this proposal will advance. If it does, and the legislature ultimately approves the bill, it would be included on the ballot in November's general election.