The Moore American

Local News

July 3, 2013

Tribal tobacco taxes rising



The Kaw’s compact, for example, phases out its lower “border rates” of about 26 cents per pack, raising the rate to $1.03, the same one for nontribal retailers. In return, the Kaw tribe will be refunded 51.5 cents per-pack by the state.

Tribal leaders supported extending the compacts rather than renegotiating them, but the Fallin administration pressed for new compacts.

“What the governor said was we’re not going to just rubber-stamp and renew the tobacco compacts up for expiration,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin’s spokesman. “But absolutely we want to sit down with every tribe interested in doing so to negotiate new compacts.”

Mullins said he expected the state to reach an agreement with most of the 22 tribes in negotiations by the end of the three-month extension period.

Tribal officials say they hope to allow smoke shops to keep up with tobacco retailers across the state line.

“Our main focus is to keep the market competitive for tribal smoke shops,” said Sara Hill, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “The object is not to provide cheaper-priced cigarettes to anyone.”

Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief George Tiger attributed the state’s push for higher tobacco tax rates partly to years of opposition from nontribal retailers.

“We’ve certainly enjoyed some years where we had a definite advantage,” Tiger said. “Now that gap is closing and I have to think it’s because of some of the bigger corporations who sell cigarettes and, of course, some of the retail associations in Oklahoma.”

Tobacco sales at some shops have declined in recent years.

Whether higher taxes at smoke shops will lead to less smoking among tribal members remains to be seen. But health experts credit higher taxes for helping decrease smoking nationally.

Studies show Oklahoma has one of the highest tobacco use rates in the nation. Smoking is especially high among Native Americans, although it’s been declining.

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