Taxation of Tobacco Products and Native American Tribal Treaties

August 22, 2018

The case of Washington State Licensing Board v. Cougar Den  concerns whether the Yakama Treaty of 1855 creates a right for tribal members to avoid state taxes on off-reservation commercial activities that make use of public highways.  The Supreme Court of Washington ruled that the tribes could avoid the state taxes.  The Supreme Court of the United States accepted the state’s appeal of the case.  Although the dispute involves Washington State’s taxation of motor fuel, the rationale underlying the decision of the Supreme Court of Washington potentially threatens the collection of taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco products by all states. ACS CAN and other public  health organizations that work to reduce the consumption of tobacco products filed as amici (or “friends of the court”) in a brief to educate the court about the imposition and collection of taxes on tobacco products as a highly effective tobacco control measure to prevent consumption, especially by children.  The brief provides extensive scientific data explaining why the taxes are not merely about state revenue, but are intended to serve as public health measures.