Budget & Tax

Jonathan Small | February 12, 2016

Free Market Friday: Hurting smokers

Jonathan Small

Session has begun and tobacco users are in bureaucrats’ crosshairs. Tax consumers desire a massive cigarette tax increase to maintain government spending that our private sector economy cannot sustain.

The most prominent proposals increase cigarette taxes by nearly 150 percent. If enacted, Oklahoma would have a significantly higher cigarette tax than all surrounding states. This tax increase would make it so that if you traveled north from the south coast of Texas all the way to the beaches of Lake Michigan, no state would have a higher cigarette tax than Oklahoma.

This “sin” tax increase is being sold as predominantly for the health of smokers and to decrease smoking. But state tax collection records reveal that it’s government that has the greatest addiction to smoking. Cigarette, tobacco and compact taxes generated more than $2.4 billion for state government from FY-2003 to FY-2013.

Proponents of the cigarette tax increase suggest that the increase will decrease smoking by just 10 percent, but rake in $181 million more annually for state government.

Not long ago I was in New York City, home of the highest state and local cigarette tax burdens in the nation. There I noticed many smoking. New York City has basically come clean about its intentions. Bureaucrats there by their actions reveal it’s more about the money than health concerns. In fact, New York City is so serious about its enforcement of its cigarette tax policy that its enforcement efforts resulted in the death of Eric Garner. Garner, a black man, died in the hands of New York City police who were trying to enforce the city’s cigarette tax laws.

Government at its core is force, often by burdensome taxation. Our failed criminal justice policy demonstrates that using the force of government to change non-violent moral behavior leads to hurting Oklahomans. Over and over states have demonstrated that cigarette tax increases marginally affect smoking, but significantly decrease the purchasing power for other necessities, including for the most vulnerable smokers and their families.

Our economy is struggling. We can’t afford tax policy that artificially deters Oklahoma consumers from Oklahoma businesses.

If we truly care about Oklahomans who smoke and their families, particularly the most vulnerable, we will help them make wise choices, not use the force of government to hammer them and their families for non-violent moral behavior.

Jonathan Small President

Jonathan Small


Jonathan Small, C.P.A., serves as President and joined the staff in December of 2010. Previously, Jonathan served as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma Office of State Finance, as a fiscal policy analyst and research analyst for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and as director of government affairs for the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Small’s work includes co-authoring “Economics 101” with Dr. Arthur Laffer and Dr. Wayne Winegarden, and his policy expertise has been referenced by The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, National Review, the L.A. Times, The Hill, the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. His weekly column “Free Market Friday” is published by the Journal Record and syndicated in 27 markets. A recipient of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s prestigious Private Sector Member of the Year award, Small is nationally recognized for his work to promote free markets, limited government and innovative public policy reforms. Jonathan holds a B.A. in Accounting from the University of Central Oklahoma and is a Certified Public Accountant.

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