TSET sets bold agenda to combat Tobacco use

Story provided by TSET Healthy Living Program

Tobacco use is the leading cause of illness and preventable death in Oklahoma. Every year, Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System from 2012-2016, the Payne County smoking prevalence is 17.4% compared to the Oklahoma prevalence of 19.6%.

The 10th Anniversary: Targeting Tobacco Control Policies & Programs for a Tobacco-Free Future initiative outlines the necessary steps Oklahoma should take to lower the adult smoking rate to 10 percent in the next decade. The initiative focuses on creating common sense solutions and modernizing policies to improve the health of all Oklahomans. Policy recommendations include:

  • Prohibit smoking in cars with children present
    • Prohibiting smoking in vehicles when children 16 or younger are present will help our youth breathe easier and live healthier.
  • 100% clean indoor air
    • Closing the loopholes in the state’s current indoor air law will protect our health and keep Oklahoma competitive with surrounding states.
  • Raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21
    • Raising the legal minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette devices from 18 to 21 will prevent 223,000 premature deaths.
  • Ban on all menthols and flavored tobacco
    • Banning menthol and flavored tobacco products will protect thousands of Oklahoma kids from a lifetime of addiction, disease, and early or premature death.
  • Cigarette price increases over the next decade
    • A $1.50 tax increase would encourage 30,400 adults to quit smoking and save the state 1.22 billion in future healthcare costs. Consumers become accustomed to price increases over time and additional price increases should be considered.
  • Strengthen enforcement against underage tobacco sales
    • A variety of policies can reduce youth access to tobacco through retail sources—like enforcing stronger penalties for selling to those underage.
  • Remove smokers as a protected class of employees
    • Smokefree workplaces not only protect non-smokers from passive smoking, but also encourage smokers to quit and stay non-smokers. Smoking should not be on par with existing legally protected factors like race, sex, or religion.

These policies have been proven to reduce tobacco use and increase the overall health of people in states that have implemented them. Oklahoma deserves a healthier future and the creation of these policies will provide that. “Tobacco Stops With Me has spent the last 10 years educating Oklahomans about the dangers of secondhand smoke and tobacco use. Oklahoma has seen the smoking prevalence reduce by more than 25 percent,” said John Woods, executive director of TSET. “In the next ten years, we’re taking a stand against tobacco in our state and doubling down on an aggressive agenda that will not only cut our smoking by 50 percent, but also protect our most vulnerable Oklahomans – our kids.”

At the same time, TSET will also invest millions in programs to educate young people on the hazards of tobacco use, increase youth advocacy, and educate to end the generational cycle of nicotine addiction. The TSET Board of Directors also approved increased investments in the development of programs in health care systems to focus on Oklahomans that are most adversely impacted by the burden of tobacco. Tobacco Stops With Me has already improved the health of Oklahomans over the last ten years. The smoking rate dropped to 20 percent for the first time in the state’s history and youth smoking was cut in half. Nearly 70 percent of Oklahomans support a statewide smoke-free law.

Stronger state-level policies may even have an effect on updating tobacco-free policies at the local level. With unarguable strong evidence on the harms of secondhand smoke, municipalities, businesses, and organizations should look to protect their employees and the community at large from this preventable danger by updating and adopting stronger ordinances that address tobacco-use and secondhand smoke on all property, both indoor and outdoors. According to Tobacco Stops With Me, just 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart damage similar to that of an everyday smoker. In addition, secondhand smoke kills nearly 50,000 nonsmokers each year and is classified as a Class A carcinogen. If you are interested in joining the cause for stronger tobacco policies visit stopswithme.com/get-involved or contact your local TSET Healthy Living Program Coordinator.