Tuesday, February 7, 2012
BY WAYNE GREENE, Tulsa World Senior Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY - Gov. Mary Fallin signed an executive order Monday banning the use of tobacco products on state property.
The order gives state agencies six months to make sure tobacco, including smokeless tobacco, is not used in or on any state property, including buildings, land and vehicles.
Fallin announced the decision in her State of the State address Monday, adding to it the symbolic announcement that the smoking room at the state Capitol will be converted to a fitness center.
"Healthy living is important, not just because we want Oklahomans to live full and happy lives, but because the effects of unhealthy life choices hurt our economy, drain taxpayer dollars and drive up the cost of health care for everyone," Fallin said
Oklahoma is ranked 48th in the nation in overall health indicators, which Fallin said was unacceptable.
Secretary of Health and Human Services Terry Cline said several state agencies - including the Health Department, Mental Health Department and Oklahoma State University - have already gone smoke-free and that several others were working in that direction.
The state plans an education campaign for state workers and any other Oklahomans to let them know what resources are available through the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.
Through the trust's toll-free number, 1-800-784-8669, Oklahomans can get one-on-one coaching, specialized materials and referrals to community resources. Participants may also receive free nicotine patches if those costs are not covered by insurance.
A former addiction specialist, Cline said addicts have told him it is harder to stop smoking than to stop using heroin.
"It's killing a lot of people," he said.
Oklahoma is among the worst in the nation in smoking rates and, not coincidentally, among the very worst in the nation in cardio-vascular disease deaths, Cline said.
About 23.7 percent of Oklahomans smoke, including about 20 percent of high school students, he said.
No figures were available on how many state employees smoke, but the state Health Department estimates that a tobacco-free policy will result in an estimated 1,200 fewer state employees who smoke, resulting in savings of approximately $5.2 million each year in lost productivity and reduced medical claims.
"I think this is a big step forward for everyone in the state of Oklahoma," Cline said.
"I think it is very, very bold. We know that the tobacco industry wants to keep tobacco use high. There is no doubt there will be opposition to this."
Pat Marshall, chairwoman of Smoke Free Oklahoma, said the governor's order was a step in the right direction, but she said her group intends to keep fighting for legislation that allows local governments to enact smoking bans on private property that are more stringent than the state law.
"We need to get that done so we can do it throughout the state," Marshall said.
State law bans smoking in indoor workplaces but allows businesses to open smoking rooms under certain restrictions.
Efforts to reach The Smoker's Club Inc., a national smokers' rights organization, and a spokesman for RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. were unsuccessful Monday.
Cline said funding for the symbolic transformation of the Capitol smoke room into a wellness center with exercise equipment would cost less than $100,000. Funding is expected to come from a grant from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and a matching grant from the Oklahoma Hospital Association.