TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Health officials expect the number of Oklahomans who try to quit smoking will increase April 1, when the federal cigarette tax goes up.
The federal tax will increase by 62 cents to $1.01 per pack. With Oklahoma's $1.03 per-pack state tax, the total tax on a pack of cigarettes will be $2.04.
“Increasing the tobacco tax is the No. 1 thing you can do to drive down smoking rates," said Tracey Strader, who administers the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline as executive director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “In these tough economic times, people will really feel the impact of the price increase.”
Tribal smokeshops are not exempt from the federal increase.
Strader estimates that the number of calls to the helpline will more than double, to about 5,000 per month.
President Barack Obama signed the tobacco tax increase into law Wednesday as part of legislation to reauthorize and expand the federal State Children's Health Insurance Program. Much of the additional tobacco taxes will go to fund the program.
“The primary motivation of a tobacco tax increase is to keep youth from starting” smoking, Strader said. “Price is the single most effective deterrent. Nobody is telling adults they cannot smoke. But even adult smokers don't want kids to smoke. And they are more influenced by what we as adults do than what we say.”
According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, this federal tax increase will save the lives of 13,600 adult smokers in Oklahoma. It will bring in $664 million more in long-term health care savings by reducing tobacco-related health care costs, the group said.
“This has the simultaneous effect of discouraging smoking and raising money for critical health care programs,” said Doug Matheny, chief of the tobacco use-prevention service at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
As a result of Oklahoma's 2005 tobacco-tax increase, cigarette sales dropped 14 percent while tobacco tax revenue rose 300 percent, he said. The money went to health programs such as Insure Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Cancer Institute.
“They (the campaign) are estimating a 10 percent drop in cigarette sales here. But we expect closer to a 14 percent drop,” Matheny said.
Strader said 75 percent of Oklahoma adults surveyed want to quit smoking.
“If it was just easy to wake up and quit one day, there would already be fewer smokers,” she said. “Maybe this will give them that nudge.”