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FOR RELEASE: January 21, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Pro-Health, Anti-Tobacco Billboards Messages to be Removed

"Mind if I smoke? Care if I die?" will be one of the pro-health messages chosen by Oklahoma children to be removed soon from five billboards in prime locations located in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. Leases for the billboards had been provided through terms of the November 1998 multi-state tobacco settlement. The billboard leases are now expiring and no funds have been made available to renew them.

"This temporary billboard space was certainly a positive opportunity. However, it was only a very small step toward what needs to be done in Oklahoma to effectively counter the decades of tobacco industry influence and prevent this deadly addiction among our children," said J.R. Nida, M.D., commissioner of health.

As part of the multi-state settlement signed by state attorneys general and tobacco companies in November 1998, the companies agreed to remove all billboards by April 23, 1999, and to turn over any remaining time on their leases to the states. About 284 tobacco billboards were removed in Oklahoma. Of the billboards removed, lease time remained on only five: three in Tulsa and two in Oklahoma City.

"We are simply being 'outspent' by big tobacco in Oklahoma. For decades, the tobacco industry has used its tremendous resources to market their deadly products to Oklahoma children," said Nida. "The tobacco industry spends an estimated $64 million each year to promote tobacco products in Oklahoma. It is essential that we help empower the youth of Oklahoma with factual images about smoking and de-glamorize the images portrayed by the tobacco industry."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that for an effective counter-marketing media campaign, states should invest at least one dollar for every four that the tobacco industry spends on advertising and promotions.

"States that have implemented comprehensive tobacco use prevention and cessation programs utilizing the 'Four Cornerstones for Success' — Community, Cessation, Classroom and Counter-marketing — have dramatically reduced human and economic costs of tobacco addiction," Nida said. "To be most effective, the counter-marketing aspect of a comprehensive program needs to include sustained ad placement on television, radio, print and billboards."

A 15-year follow-up study in the American Journal of Public Health showed that the reductions in tobacco use produced by a mass media intervention combined with a school and community-based education program last over time. Average lifetime cigarette consumption was 22 percent lower among program subjects than among control subjects.

The artwork used on the five boards was selected after the Oklahoma State Department of Health conducted informal surveys of 252 Oklahoma children grades six to 12. The children were asked to select ads from other billboard campaigns used in other states. The messages selected were:

  • "Mind if I smoke? "Care if I die?" featuring images of a man and woman in '50s vintage dress.
  • "Bob, I've got emphysema" featuring two rugged cowboys riding horses across the countryside.
  • "First bicycle 6 years…first turtle 7 years…first cigarette 11 years. It's time we made smoking history" featuring a photo of a newborn baby.

Tobacco addiction is the leading cause of preventable death in Oklahoma, causing over 6,000 deaths in the state each year. An average of over 40 Oklahoma children become addicted to tobacco products every day and about one out of three will die prematurely as a result. Smoking-attributable health costs in Oklahoma are estimated to exceed $1 billion each year, an annual per-capita cost of over $300. Oklahoma has the ninth-highest rate of smoking-related deaths in the nation.

In resolutions adopted in 1999, the State Board of Health asked that the funds obtained in the tobacco settlement be spent in significant part on health issues related to tobacco addiction. In a resolution dated June 17, 1999, the Board said, "This stance is based on the well-documented evidence that nicotine addiction is clearly the number one addiction problem in Oklahoma with ever-mounting costs in lives, in years lived with disabilities, in health care expenditures in both the private sector and in the state budget, and in opportunities lost for economic development."

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