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FOR RELEASE: April 5, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

Health Officials Applaud Governor’s Call for Action on Secondhand Smoke Inside Public Places

State health officials expressed appreciation today to Gov. Frank Keating following his call for a “sweeping ban on smoking in public, enclosed places, such as restaurants.”

Although the governor announced that he was “reluctantly” rejecting the Board of Health’s rules restricting smoking in many indoor public places and workplaces because he felt they conflicted with state law, he called upon the legislature to rewrite the statute to address the Board’s proposals.

“We are very pleased that the Governor has chosen to exhibit bold leadership on behalf of the people of Oklahoma. We hope the legislature will respond positively to this challenge,” said Dr. Ron Graves, Board of Health president. “We see this as a significant turning point in improving the health status of Oklahomans.”

“The governor’s action today will initiate a legacy of better health for Oklahomans,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Leslie Beitsch. “We will gladly work with the legislature and the governor to craft the legislation needed to reduce public exposure to secondhand smoke.”

Both Graves and Beitsch emphasized that the Board of Health’s rules were never intended to penalize smokers. Most smokers recognize the concern of not exposing others to their smoke. In fact, according to a 2001 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation statewide poll, 85 percent of current cigarette smokers in Oklahoma believe that in restaurants, smoking should only be allowed in separate smoking areas where the smoke is vented to the outside, or not allowed at all. The vast majority of Oklahoma smokers want to quit and more than half have tried multiple times to quit.

Health officials noted that the primary opposition to protecting nonsmokers from secondhand smoke is from the tobacco industry. Internal tobacco industry documents, recently made public through state tobacco lawsuits, indicate that the tobacco companies fight smoking restrictions to protect against resulting losses in cigarette sales. One example is a 1992 Philip Morris interoffice memorandum that states: “Total prohibition of smoking in the workplace strongly affects industry volume. Smokers facing these restrictions consume 11-15% less than average and quit at a rate that is 84% higher than average.”

Another Philip Morris document from 1993 estimated their financial losses if such policies were enacted: “Financial impact of smoking bans will be tremendous - three to five fewer cigarettes per day will reduce annual manufacturer profits a billion dollars plus per year.”

An estimated 750 Oklahomans die each year as a result of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Scientific data document at least 40 chemicals in secondhand smoke cause cancer. Breathing secondhand smoke for just 30 minutes can reduce cardiovascular health. For those who suffer from asthma, secondhand smoke can cause immediate respiratory danger by triggering attacks. Young children are especially vulnerable to secondhand smoke.

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