Input Sought On Tobacco Fund Spending
TULSA, Okla. -- Four organizations want the board governing Oklahoma's tobacco settlement trust to spend its funds on tobacco use prevention and cessation.
The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund Board of Directors heard from more than 20 people concerning the expenditure of investment earnings from Oklahoma's tobacco settlement.
The state is expected to receive nearly $2.3 billion over the next 25 years as its share in the settlement between 46 states and the tobacco industry.
Voters created a trust fund last November to ensure that most of the money will be spent for health-related purposes. The board of directors can designate how the investment income from the fund can be spent.
Several speakers called on the group to make spending the money on tobacco use prevention and cessation programs its first priority.
"Let's first address the problem that brought the money here," said Misti Rice with the American Cancer Society.
Richard Barnes with the American Lung Association noted that Oklahoma has one of the nation's highest smoking rates. Yet, the Legislature has appropriated only $1.5 million to deal with the problem, Barnes said. A survey of adolescent smokers show that 85 percent would like to kick the habit, he said.
Greta Shepherd of the Oklahoma Primary Care Association warned that the state could lose federal substance abuse block grant money if it fails to show it has made inroads on the tobacco issue.
Doug Matheny with the state Health Department said the state could lose up to half the $19 million it receives each year in substance abuse block grant funding.
Others called for using the earnings for research into various health problems and for care for the elderly.
Richard Ingham, an advocate for the elderly, said Oklahoma has more than 600,000 people who are at least 65 years old. Along those lines, Sandra Edge-Boyd with the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work said the money should be used to train more social workers to care for the elderly.
Jack Blair with the Oklahoma Trust for Public Land recommended the money be spent on more parks, public trails and community centers to benefit children.
The board has a Jan. 1 deadline to formulate a plan on how the money should be spent, trust fund board chairman Dr. Robert McCaffrey said.
The trust fund presently has $50 million and has already made $651,619.39 in interest earnings.