Several area Indian smoke shops are selling cigarettes without a new kind of fire-safety paper required by legislation enacted last year, a Tulsa World investigation shows.
The World bought several packs of discount-brand cigarettes at smoke shops in Tulsa, Broken Arrow, Sapulpa and Beggs. A new state law requires cigarettes to be wrapped in fire-safe paper, beginning Jan. 1, 2009, said Paula Ross, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
To delay the law’s effect, several area smoke shops appear to be selling old inventory bought before the law took effect about 10 months ago. The law allows retailers to sell old inventory until Jan. 1, 2010.
“Our plan for after January 1, 2010, is to contact the fire marshal’s office if nonfire-safe cigarettes are found during a routine compliance check,” Ross said.
Fire-safe paper is designed to extinguish a lit cigarette that is not being smoked, fire officials said.
Meanwhile, acting Tulsa Fire Marshal Mike Bailey said that cigarettes were the No. 1 heat source for fatality fires in Tulsa during the past seven years.
Between 2001 and 2008, 59 people lost their lives to fires caused by cigarettes or smoking material, Bailey said.
“Fire-safe paper is a step in the right direction, but there are no totally safe cigarettes,” Bailey said.
The World purchased cigarettes without the fire-safe paper at five area smoke shops. They include: Riverside Indian Smoke Shop and Mingo Tobacco Outlet in Tulsa; BA Tobacco
Outlet in Broken Arrow; White Feather Smoke Shop in Sapulpa; and Duck Creek Smoke Shop near Beggs.
The cigarettes being sold without fire-safe paper are Seneca and King Mountain brand cigarettes. The smoke shops are affiliated with the Muskogee (Creek) Nation.
Creek Nation spokesman Thompson Gouge said that some tribal-affiliated stores are selling cigarette inventory purchased before the new law took effect. He said that smoke shops would begin pulling the cigarettes from their shelves Jan. 1, 2010.
Karen Goodson, manager of Riverside Indian Smoke Shop, said the World must have purchased cigarettes from previous shipments. She said her store has begun selling Seneca and King Mountain with fire-safe paper.
“You must have bought some of the only ones that I have in stock,” Goodson said. “We will be compliant as of Jan. 1, 2010. We are not here to break the law.”
When asked if she was selling old inventory, Goodson said: “You would have to ask the wholesaler about that. I have no idea.”
State Fire Marshal Robert Doke said his office has contacted the state attorney general’s office, trying to determine if the fire marshal has jurisdiction on Indian land.
“Typically we don’t have jurisdiction on Indian land,” Doke said.
Most of the Creek-affiliated stores within the Tulsa area refuse to sell the cigarettes, saying they are “illegal” when asked why they don’t sell them.
Seneca and King Mountain cigarettes also are part of a tax controversy between the state and the Creek Nation. The cigarettes are considered contraband by the Oklahoma Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement Complementary Act.
The act requires that tobacco manufacturers and their brand families be listed on the Directory of Compliant Tobacco Manufacturers maintained by the attorney general’s office. The cigarettes are not on the approved state list.
In a lawsuit against 14 Creek-affiliated stores, the state alleges the owners or managers are selling the cigarettes in violation of the Federal Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, the State Complementary Act and State Cigarette Tax Act, according to a lawsuit filed in February.
In addition to not having the fire-safe paper, the cigarettes are being sold without an Oklahoma tax stamp, which means no taxes are going to the state for programs to decrease the smoking rate or to help fund health initiatives.
All of the stores visited by the World, except White Feather, are named in the lawsuit, records show.
The Creek Nation has justified selling the cigarettes by claiming that the product involves a business transaction between sovereign tribes not subject to Oklahoma taxation.
Seneca brand cigarettes are manufactured by Grand River Enterprises Six Nations Ltd., a Canadian limited liability corporation. King Mountain is manufactured by King Mountain Tobacco Company Inc., an Indian-owned tobacco manufacturer located within the boundaries of the Yakima Nation in Washington state.
What are fire-safe cigarettes?
David Sutton, spokesman for Phillip Morris USa, said fire-safe cigarettes use a new method of paper wrapping to help extinguish a cigarette more quickly. The method is known as Reduced Cigarette Ignition Propensity. RCIP involves using banded paper, or thin layers of bands, which are attached to a cigarette rod. The paper bands act as “speed bumps” allowing the lit end of the cigarette to burn slowly.
“They extinguish more quickly than cigarettes that don’t have banded paper,” Sutton said.
By OMER GILLHAM & DEON J. HAMPTON