During the state's next legislative cycle, Oklahoma health leaders will yet again try to pass a bill that would allow communities to pass their own smoking ordinances.
Health Commissioner Terry Cline said at Tuesday's state board of health meeting that this bill would help bring about important change for the health of Oklahoma residents.
“More people die from heart disease related to tobacco than from all forms of cancer combined caused by tobacco, and most people don't realize that,” Cline said.
Oklahoma state law prohibits municipalities from making their smoking laws stricter than state law. Oklahoma and Tennessee have the strictest laws in the nation on what cities can do regarding smoking ordinances, according to the state Health Department.
About 6,000 Oklahoma residents die each year from tobacco-related illnesses, Cline said. One in four, or about 650,000, Oklahoma adults are current smokers, according to the state Health Department.
Fourth attempt for bill
This will be the fourth time the state health board has tried to get this type of bill passed, Cline said.
During the last legislative session, House Bill 2267 would have allowed local governments to adopt ordinances to control smoking in public places.
The bill made it through the state House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, was the chairman of that Senate committee when the bill came through.
Crain, who will again serve as the committee's chairman, said his biggest problem with last year's bill was that it was unclear what the bill's ultimate goal was.
“At some point, we need to expect people to take personal responsibility for their actions,” Crain said. “We have done everything we can to educate people on the harms of tobacco smoking. If the purpose of the bill is to say ‘We are going to outlaw tobacco use in Oklahoma,' then let's go ahead and say ‘The purpose is to outlaw tobacco use in Oklahoma.' Let's not keep infringing upon how we expect people to act.”
Crain said he hasn't yet seen this year's version of the bill, so he couldn't say whether he planned to support it or vote against it.
Also at the state board of health meeting, the board went into executive session to discuss two pending court cases, one a personnel matter, the other a lawsuit regarding Planned Parenthood.
Earlier this year, the state Health Department withdrew Women, Infants and Children, or WIC, funding from three Planned Parenthood clinics in Tulsa. In November, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed a federal lawsuit against Cline, alleging the move was politically motivated.
On Tuesday, the board didn't take any action regarding either lawsuit.
The Associated Press