Many are questioning the wisdom of targeting tobacco consumers for a massive new state tax. NAMI Tulsa(National Alliance On Mental Illness) published a major study showing that the mentally ill are one of the largest classes of people consuming tobacco products.
NAMI National website cites the Lasser study which finds that the mentally ill consume 44.3% of the tobacco sold in the USA. All mental health advocates and clinicians desperately urge for the mentally ill to get free of tobacco addiction, but strongly urge that smoking cessation attempts not be undertaken while dealing with an acute mental health crisis. The same is true while an idividual is in a detox & recovery program to address a serious drug addiction.
According the the Lasser findings, some forms of mental illness bring as much as a 68.8% likelihood of being a current user of tobacco.
This begs the serious question of the legislative strategy to remove 23% of the budget for the Oklahoma Dept. of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS), and replace it with a massive new tax which they called a 'Smoking Cessation Fee'. That tax was almost immediately struck down by the state's high court on a unanimous ruling.
This exposed the fact that the governor & legislature actually cut reliable funding to this core state function, rather than tying their own salaries and capitol office budgets to the flimsy scheme.
The Tobacco tax scheme was pushed as a way to bring new added revenue to the underfunded core mental health operations. Advocates for mental health were encouraged to pressure legislators to support it because they thought it would actually hike mental health spending by $72 million. When the budget came to the House floor, we found out that only a modest increase would accrue, and the funding source be split 4 ways among 4 agencies. Even worse news is that the designated funds would only be committed to those agencies for 1 year. then perhaps the legislature would seek to recruit the mental health advocates to help them raise yet more money through another tax hike scheme?
Here's where the numbers just don't add up as a good deal for Oklahomans with mental illness...
Of the $215 million in new tax collections from tobacco buyers, the state would take over $95 million of that out of the hands of the mentally ill; and only $72 million goes to Mental health. That leaves the mentally ill, themselves; paying for all the agency shortfall plus $23 million which will be diverted away from their desperately needed care.
The State is Putting A Punitive Tax On The Mentally Ill.
This governor and legislative leadership team have robbed from the agency devoted to public assistance for a very vulnerable class of people. While they were doing it, they were making lofty speeches on the floor of the House about how caring they care for the plight of the mentally ill. (read the House record of Budget Chair, Leslie Osborn's presentation of the 2017 Budget & the 'Tobacco Cessation Fee', on the House floor)