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Capitol Insider: What Happens If The Supreme Court Finds The Cigarette Fee Unconstitutional?

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The Oklahoma Supreme Court hears arguments August 8 in the case over the state’s new $1.50-per-pack cigarette fee.



Each side will have approximately 30 minutes to argue for or against the state’s “Smoking Cessation Act” passed the last day of the 2017 legislative session.

State supreme court justices can ask attorneys questions throughout the arguments.


“[The line of questioning] sometimes gives you an idea of where the court stands on the issue before [justices] render their decision,” said eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley, speaking with KGOU’s Dick Pryor for Capitol Insider.


The Supreme Court could rule the bill unconstitutional as soon as the day of the hearing, but justices could also take several weeks to deliberate.


Two of the largest tobacco companies in the U.S., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA Inc., as well as several Oklahoma companies and individuals are suing the state because they argue the cigarette fee “flagrantly violates” the state’s constitution.


In the lawsuit, plaintiffs argue the cigarette fee is a revenue-raising measure, and so should not have been voted on in the final few days of the legislative session and should have required a three-quarters majority vote to pass.


The cigarette fee is scheduled to take effect August 25, just over two weeks after the Supreme Court hearing. It is expected to generate approximately $215 million.


The money from the cigarette fee will go to four state agencies: the Alcoholic Beverage Law Enforcement Commission, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.


If the court finds the fee unconstitutional, those agencies will lose that funding.


“That money would be wiped out. It simply wouldn't be there. And that could create quite a hardship for each of those agencies,” Ashley said.


Lawmakers could decide to borrow money from other state agencies to cover the four agencies’ expenses, meaning more than those four agencies could face cuts.


Capitol Insider is a collaborative news project between KGOU and eCapitol. Music provided by Astral PlanesAs a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department. eCapitol is legislative news and bill tracking service. Online content is available via subscription.

Claire has previously worked at KGOU, where she helped create a podcast, How Curious, and hosted local news during Morning Edition. Previously, she was an intern on the city desk at WBEZ in Chicago. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School. Claire has reported on street performers, temp workers, criminal court cases, police dogs, Christmas tree recycling and more.
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