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FOR RELEASE: May 2, 2002
CONTACT: Dick Gunn
405/271-5601

New Plan to Reduce Oklahoma's Tobacco Use Released this Week

Calling for both policy changes and a comprehensive statewide program, the 20-member Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee released a new state plan this week with the goal of cutting tobacco use in Oklahoma in half by the year 2010. The Advisory Committee identified the three key elements of the plan as prevention, cessation, and protection.

"Highly successful efforts already underway in many other states show that there is no single magic-bullet solution," said Dr. Gary Watson, a member of the Advisory Committee representing the American Heart Association. "Given the scope of the problem in Oklahoma and the level of tobacco industry opposition, a coordinated, multifaceted approach is needed."

Prevention efforts are considered essential by the Advisory Committee because almost all smokers become addicted as teenagers. The plan also seeks statewide cessation assistance for smokers in Oklahoma who want to quit, finding that "…treatment for addiction to tobacco products ranks higher in cost-effectiveness than virtually all other preventive health programs, including mammography, colon cancer screening, [and] pap tests…"

The third key element in the plan is protection from secondhand smoke by eliminating smoking inside public places and workplaces. The plan noted that smoke-free policies also serve to "support efforts to reduce youth initiation and to promote cessation among youth and adults" and lead to "improved employee health and reduced healthcare costs, improved productivity, decreased turnover, and reduced employer liability for providing unsafe workplaces."

A substantial increase in the tobacco excise tax is recommended as a deterrent to tobacco use. The plan states that the "effects estimated by a hypothetical $1 per pack increase would be an immediate 30 percent decrease in youth smoking, an 11 percent decrease in overall smoking rates, and about $200 million in new state revenue." Regarding potential losses of sales to tribal "smokeshops," the plan recommends that the State of Oklahoma "negotiate new state tobacco tax compacts with tribal nations, seeking collaboration to achieve needed excise tax increases in a manner that is mutually beneficial to the state and the tribal nations."

The Advisory Committee suggests that a portion of the new cigarette tax revenue could be appropriately used "to fully fund the tobacco use prevention and cessation programs called for in this Plan." Based on experiences in other states, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends an annual investment of $22 million to $56 million for a statewide tobacco use prevention and cessation program in Oklahoma. The committee projects that $33 million annually, or an average of $10 per person, is needed to implement the plan as adopted.

The resources needed for statewide implementation of the plan contrast sharply with the estimated $2.2 billion in annual costs of tobacco-caused disease, or an average annual cost of about $600 per Oklahoman. If the plan is followed, "some cost savings, such as reduced neonatal care expenses for low birthweight infants, will be seen almost immediately" and "other savings will gradually grow, eventually reaching hundreds of millions of dollars per year."

Also contrasted is the amount of money being spent to promote tobacco products. "The latest numbers available show that tobacco companies are spending over $100 million each year to promote tobacco use in our state, an average of about $30 per Oklahoman," said Dr. Francene Weatherby, a member of the Advisory Committee representing the Oklahoma Nurses Association. "They're outspending us by about 30-to-one. To effectively counter tobacco industry influence and improve public health, we need the ratio to be closer to three-to-one."

The plan states that "although the public assumes that Oklahoma's 'tobacco settlement money' has already been used to implement prevention and cessation programs, the truth is that less than three percent of Oklahoma's settlement payments have been allocated for this purpose." Most of the settlement funds go directly into the tobacco settlement endowment trust fund. "Although wisely created by state leaders and Oklahoma voters, the trust fund will not generate sufficient interest to support an effective statewide prevention and cessation program until 2011, even if the Trust Fund's Board of Directors were to dedicate all disbursements to this purpose."

The Advisory Committee was created in May 2001 through the Oklahoma Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Act. The committee includes representatives of the Oklahoma Psychological Association, American Cancer Society, Oklahoma Public Health Association, Oklahoma Osteopathic Association, Oklahoma Dental Association, Oklahoma State Medical Association, American Heart Association, Oklahoma Nurses Association, Quality Behavioral Services Alliance, American Lung Association, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and four state agencies. Other appointees include two persons between 12 and 18 years of age.

The Plan can be viewed at http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/tobac/events.htm as well as http://www.health.state.ok.us/program/tobac/.

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