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For Release: June 7, 2010
Contact: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications

Tobacco Prevention Panel Seeks Implementation of State Health Plan       
Legislature Urged to Reject Tobacco Industry Influence, Adopt Recommended Policies

A state advisory committee has adopted a formal resolution to urge state legislators to enact each of the tobacco-related policy recommendations of the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan and to reject all attempts by tobacco industry representatives to influence any legislation designed to reduce the toll of tobacco in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan recommendations call for the enactment of tobacco prevention policies including extending state law to protect all workers from secondhand smoke, restoring local rights to communities on tobacco issues, prohibiting use of state driver’s license informa¬tion scans for marketing of tobacco products, and indexing state tobacco excise taxes to the national average.

“These are common sense health recommendations that Oklahomans support,” said Sara Smith, Regional Communications Director for the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society and member of the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee. “Most states are adopting strong policies to counteract the tobacco industry. Oklahoma is still lagging behind.”

The State Board of Health presented the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan to the Oklahoma Legislature in December 2009. The five-year plan – developed through an extensive process involving broad-based workgroups and community listening sessions –focuses on key priorities and outcomes including developing and initiating appropriate policies and legislation to maximize opportunities for all Oklahomans to lead healthy lives.

According to the plan, “…key state and local policy changes will be essential to effectively counter tobacco industry influences” and “…the impact of smoking on poor health is so profound that transformation of Oklahoma’s health status from a very unhealthy state, to a healthy state, will not be possible unless there is a major reduction in tobacco use.”

“Important initial steps were taken during the 2010 legislative session, but there is still much to do to accomplish critical policy goals of the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan,” said State Health Commissioner Dr. Terry Cline. “We know the tobacco industry will oppose ongoing efforts to reduce our state’s tobacco problem. Regardless, Oklahoma needs to move forward. People’s lives are at stake. We need to put the health of Oklahomans above profits for the tobacco industry.”

The resolution, unanimously adopted by the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee, notes that previously-released internal tobacco industry documents reveal that a common practice of tobacco companies has been to expect their paid lobbyists at the Oklahoma State Capitol to “invest heavily in the campaigns of desirable candidates” and to “use events, charitable contributions, and entertainment of standing committees” to try to influence legislation.

The resolution also notes that a 2009 U.S. Court of Appeals decision found 11 tobacco companies guilty of violating the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), concluding that a “culture of fraud” permeates the tobacco companies’ business practices and that “…their continuing conduct misleads consumers in order to maximize Defendants revenues by recruiting new smokers (the majority of whom are under the age of 18), preventing current smokers from quitting, and thereby sustaining the industry.”

“Sadly, tobacco company lobbyists at the Oklahoma State Capitol are affecting the health of our state,” said Dr. Katherine Little, an Advisory Committee member representing the Oklahoma State Medical Association. “The days of letting ‘Big Tobacco’ influence policymaking in Oklahoma must end.”

Tobacco use is Oklahoma’s leading preventable cause of death and disease, killing more Oklahomans than alcohol, auto accidents, AIDS, suicides, murders and illegal drugs combined.

The 20-member Oklahoma Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Advisory Committee was created in 2001 by the Oklahoma State Legislature. The Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan is available at www.health.ok.gov.


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