OKLAHOMA CITY – House Speaker Pro Tempore Harold Wright (R-Weatherford), recently, held an interim study before the House Health Services and Long-Term Care Committee to examine modernization to the Smoking in Public Places and Indoor Workplaces Act as a way to address second-hand smoke exposure and related illnesses in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma has taken great strides to reduce smoking in public places,” Wright said, “but there are still businesses, such as bars and other venues, that continue to allow smoking. This negatively affects patrons and workers. These Oklahomans deserve the same protections from second-hand smoke that others already enjoy, and research is clear that smoke-free laws are good for businesses.”
Wright said Oklahomans want the state to be top 10 in many areas, but we are at the bottom when it comes to health outcomes and smoking plays a role in that.
Wright authored House Bill 2288, the Oklahoma Workplace Clean Air Act, prohibiting smoking in public places, which passed the House Public Health Committee last session. He said he requested the interim study to address several issues brought forward by opponents of the bill. Wright stressed the proposed legislation would not affect people in their homes or in non-designated public places. He also said businesses, such as cigar bars that derive the majority of their business from cigar smokers, would have a carve-out in the legislation.
The point of the study, however, was to stress that there are no safe levels of second-hand smoke, and all businesses would benefit by expanding smoke-free policies to apply more evenly to Oklahoma businesses.
Representatives from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) presented data showing the usage of tobacco and e-cigarette products in Oklahoma as well as the impact these products have both on users and those exposed to second-hand smoke.
Data, shared, shows that while only about 20 percent of Oklahomans smoke, that is still among the highest rates of those who smoke in the nation, which averages 17 percent. Data also shows the increased prevalence of use among high school students, particularly of e-cigarettes or vaping, and the consequent illnesses that are beginning to spike at an earlier age. Youth vaping numbers have gone from 1 in 6 users two years ago to 1 in 4 this year, Oklahoma Department of Health figures show.
Presenters said that even brief exposure to smoke or second-hand smoke leads to increased risk of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease. They said currently there are too many exemptions for workplaces such as restaurants and bars that allow smoking. The cost to the state in terms of smoke-related deaths, Medicaid dollars spent on smoke-related illnesses and decreased work productivity is in the billions.
Scott Tohlen with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network discussed policy solutions that will reduce harmful exposure to second-hand smoke, such as adopting comprehensive statewide smoke-free laws that are inclusive of all workplaces.
Other strategies include increasing the price of tobacco products and continued education of the public about the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke.
Julie Bisbee, executive director of TSET, commended the Oklahoma Legislature for positive measures it has taken to make school campuses and many other public places smoke free, but she said the laws need to be expanded.
She stressed that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke and that smoke-free policies are proven to reduce the amount of second-hand smoke and tobacco consumption.
She said research shows that patchwork regulations do not benefit businesses; but when smoke-free laws are applied evenly across cities and states, they do not negatively affect businesses. She said in Oklahoma more than 50 bars have gone smoke free, many after taking advantage of survey grants that ask their patrons and workers their preferences on allowing smoking. She mentioned other states that are seeing success with such policies and are seeing lower rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer as a result of lower rates of smoking.
Also appearing before the committee was local Country and Western musician Hunter Thomas who described his experience of performing in venues where smoke is allowed vs. places where it is not. He said he and friends and fellow musicians much prefer smoke-free places.
Wright also invited Jennifer Burton, the president of Vaping Advocates of Oklahoma, to address the committee to express their desires that Oklahoma continue to allow vaping in public places as it has been helpful in transitioning people from addiction to cigarettes and other tobacco products.