Cigarette companies are suing Oklahoma over new “fee”

Cigarette companies are suing Oklahoma over new “fee”

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK (KFOR)- Two of the country's largest tobacco companies, R.J Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Phillip Morris USA, claim that Oklahoma's new 'cigarette fee' is unconstitutional and have filed a lawsuit. Plaintiffs are asking the court to declare the fee void and stop officials from enforcing it.

The budget that was approved by lawmakers late last month included a $1.50-per-pack "cigarette fee." The cigarette fee is expected to generate around $215 million.

"As this year's session ends, I'm pleased that legislators approved a fee on cigarettes. Smoking is Oklahoma's leading cause of preventable death. Lawmakers approving an additional $1.50 per pack is the most important thing they could do to improve Oklahoma's health ranking," Gov. Fallin said.

The Oklahoma Constitution states "no revenue bill should be passed during the five last days of session." It adds, no revenue bill can become law without a vote of the people or a three-fourths vote.

"So if a citizen or a corporation or someone believes that what we did was unconstitutional and files a suit, it could go to the Supreme Court and they could rule that indeed, it was unconstitutional. That would take that money out of a budget that we just passed for the FY '17-'18, which would mean mid-year cuts. And those cuts could be disastrous to our schools, to our rural hospitals, to DHS, to nursing homes," Rep. Jason Dunnington said in a Facebook video.

"We are guaranteeing that this budget is challenged in court and we come back here in, I don't know September [or] October and try to fix it," said Rep. Emily Virgin on the floor last month. "All the while schools are trying to figure out what to do, hospitals are trying to figure out how to take care of our sick. Nursing homes are trying to figure out how to take care of the elderly. Let's give them some certainty."

Information provided by KFOR.