State health committee trying to reduce number of smokers
Recommendations on how to reduce the number of Oklahomans who smoke from 23.3 percent of the adult population to 12 percent have been sent to the governor and legislative leaders.
A 20-member state Health Department advisory committee is proposing a sweeping number of changes aimed at tobacco cessation and treatment programs for smokers.
The committee falls short of requesting a $1- per-pack hike in the state cigarette tax but recommends "an increase in state excise taxes on cigarettes by an amount sufficient to significantly reduce youth purchases of tobacco products."
Health Department leaders had previously proposed a $1-per-pack increase in the state cigarette tax. That hike would raise $200 million for state coffers. About 555,000 Oklahomans smoke.
The Health Department reports 42 percent of Oklahoma high school students smoke, and 21 percent of middle school students smoke.
The advisory committee recommends a prohibition on tobacco vending machines in areas accessible to minors and harsher penalties for grocery store workers who sell tobacco products to anyone under the age of 18.
Each Oklahoma municipality should be allowed to adopt tough local anti-tobacco ordinances, although the committee wants a statewide smoking prohibition in all workplaces and "places of public access."
Several attempts to get laws passed allowing municipalities to adopt stricter smoking laws have been thwarted in the Legislature by tobacco lobbyists.
Another goal is tightening ordinances "to reduce public exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke."
Other recommendations are:
Increase tobacco use-prevention programs in elementary, middle and high schools.
Prohibit self-service displays of tobacco products.
Ban all free sampling of tobacco products.
Prohibit all Internet sales of tobacco products.
Require all health insurance plans to provide coverage for tobacco cessation services and products.
Negotiate new state tobacco tax compacts with tribal nations, seeking collaboration to achieve excise tax increases in a manner that is beneficial to the state and tribal nations.
Public forums on the "Oklahoma State Plan for Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation" will be held in five communities:
Enid: March 25, Cherokee Strip Conference Center, Harvest Room, 123 W Main Ave., 4-6 p.m.
Lawton: March 27, Lawton Professional Development Center, 2209 NW 25, 4-6 p.m.
Oklahoma City: March 29, Oklahoma Army National Guard Regional Training Institute Auditorium, Room 103, 6500 N Kelley Ave., 4-6 p.m.
Tulsa: April 2, Tulsa Central Library, Aaronson Auditorium, 400 Civic Center, 4th and Denver, 4-6 p.m.
McAlester: April 4, SE Expo Center, 4500 W Highway 270, 4-6 p.m.