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Spotlight: Cigarette tax increase could help

The Oklahoma House of Representatives Appropriations and Budget Committee voted 17-10 Monday for House Bill 1841 by Rep. Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang. The bill proposes a $1.50 per pack increase in the state’s cigarette tax and would direct revenue from the proposed tax increase into health care.

The bill would have to get at least 75 percent of the vote in both the House and the Senate to get passed since it is a tax increase.

The House Appropriations and Budget Committee was voted against by 6 of the eight Democrats and four of the 19 Republicans, showing it’ll be a hard bill to pass.

A similar bill was turned down last year.

The bill would more than double the cigarette tax, from $1.03 per pack to $2.50. Gov. Mary Fallin said it would raise almost $258 million for health care, according to the Associated Press.

The Democratic Minority Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, as well as other Democrats, expressed concern that the generated revenue wouldn’t go only to health care like they are being told by Republicans.

As someone who is a democrat, but also grew up around smokers, I’m completely for the tax.

All of us get taxed enough on everyday things, so how I see it is, why not tax something that is a personal choice?

My late papa and his mother, my Mamaw, both had Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and heart problems from smoking all of their lives, which ended up being the reasons they died. COPD is one “umbrella term” used to describe progressive lung diseases, according to My great grandma, who I refer to as Nannie, was checked into the hospital just last Friday, Feb. 10 due to breathing problems. At 96 years old, she was also diagnosed with COPD and congestive heart failure. She’s strong and stubborn, so she seems like she may be okay, but also may be going home on oxygen and taking prescribed medications for the first time in her life. As well as being encouraged to move out of her home of 54 years and move into a skilled nursing facility.

As someone who is not a smoker, it’s miserable to watch family members go through such horrible health problems because of a personal decision they made that you do not and cannot understand. My papa, for example, was warned on multiple occasions after each heart attack or regular doctor’s visit to quit smoking. He would continuously say he was going to quit, but never did. I was in sixth grade when he died and I remember how much it hurt my grandma, and the rest of my family, when he kept making the decision to smoke over and over again, no matter how many warnings.

I now have to sit back and watch my uncle and my brother make the same decision, but I think the proposed tax increase could make it to where a pack of cigarettes would no longer be affordable for them and may make them second guess that decision, as I think it will do for many others.

Obviously no tax increase is ideal, it may hurt convenient stores and gas stations. The difference is this tax increase could also potentially save lives, or at least make it to where tax dollars are going less toward smokers’ healthcare who can’t afford it.

Dr. Justin Sparkes, an internal medicine physician with the INTEGRIS Medical Group, has lost many of his patients to smoking, and with at least a third of his normal day seeing patients with health problems due to smoking has also witnessed the financial burden it causes on both the patient and the state.

“I’m looking at my schedule today and more than one third of it is filled with patients with complications tied up with smoking,” Sparkes said Thursday. “I have a real personal feeling about this tax because this is a preventable, avoidable and optional healthcare epidemic.”

Sparkes said Oklahoma has decreased some smoking within the youth, but hasn’t done as well as some of the neighboring states. He said in Oklahoma nearly 25 percent of adults smoke cigarettes and 10 percent of middle school-aged children are smoking as well.

“One of the things that we have found, not through only our own efforts but with other states, is increasing the cost of something, especially when it comes to controlled substances, decreases the utilization,” Sparkes said. “The group we want to decrease the utilization the most is the people who are not habitually smoking, especially the young smoker. When you increase the cost, you do stop some of these young people from becoming habitual smokers. I cannot over-emphasize what a big deal that is.”

Dr. Sparkes said that he also supports this bill because all the money will stay in healthcare one way or another, which was sometimes frustrating when it didn’t go to healthcare in the past.

“It really shouldn’t be anywhere but healthcare. They think this should help almost 30,000 people in Oklahoma to quit smoking and generate $184 million in state tax revenue,” Sparkes said. “You have to remember that is truly a drop in the bucket when you look at the amount to take care of these patients in any given year.

“So when we talk about, ‘well are we picking on an individual group of people?’ Well, what the facts add up to, we are only partially assigning cost to the group that is later going to consume the cost.”

Sparkes also added that when people think about smoking they only think of cancer, which is a horrible thing, but Sparkes personally hasn’t witnesses a single organ system in the body that isn’t affected by smoking.

“It affects everything, it affects everything very negatively. I don’t think people understand the way smoking is a detriment to their lifestyle,” Sparkes said. “The medications to treat COPD and other things that come up are very expensive as you advance through it. It’s a huge burden on these people to treat their disease and it is something that for the most part is optional and preventable.”

Although the people are not going to get a say in whether or not this bill passes, I feel very strongly about this bill and hope that it will pass. I’m usually not one up for raising taxes, but no one needs to smoke. That’s something they can choose if it’s willing to pay for or not.

I, for one, hope that in the future people won’t have to watch as many family members or friends suffer due to their own decisions. I wish there was a way to put a stop to cigarettes altogether, but I know that’s not ever going to happen, so this is our best bet.

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