Drive to a local city park in Oklahoma, and you might see a sign letting you know you’re banned from smoking in that park.
These signs are apparently irrelevant, as are the ordinances they help enforce.
An Oklahoma attorney general opinion released Feb. 5 ruled that cities cannot ban smoking in outdoor areas that they own or operate.
The ruling was based on the fact that Oklahoma’s state law bans cities from passing smoking laws that are stricter than state law.
Edmond is one of the many cities across Oklahoma that have passed an ordinance related to smoking in public places. In 2009, the city of Edmond passed an ordinance related to smoking in city parks and playgrounds, Edmond city attorney Steve Murdock said.
“I’m aware of the attorney general’s opinion that came out last week, and we’re reviewing that as it relates to our particulars ordinance,” Murdock said.
But there’s a growing movement to change the state law restricting cities from passing smoke-free ordinances.
Terry Cline, state health commissioner, said Monday that Senate Bill 36 is the single-most important piece of health-related legislation that the Legislature will see in his time as commissioner.
The bill would change state law and allow cities to pass their own smoke-free ordinances.
“This bill has the potential to literally save thousands and thousands of lives,” Cline said. “In the state of Oklahoma, we lose 6,000 lives plus every single year to tobacco-related illnesses — 6,000 Oklahomans we lose to the No. 1 preventable cause of death, which is tobacco use.”
Oklahoma ranks No. 47 in the nation in the prevalence of smoking. About 26 percent of adults in Oklahoma smoke. Meanwhile, the state also sees high rates of heart disease and stroke, which people who smoke are more likely to suffer from.
Bill is in committee
Public health officials say Oklahoma’s current law is one of the only laws in the nation that bans cities from passing stricter smoking ordinances.
This effort marks the fourth time that state health officials have pushed for a bill like Senate Bill 36.
The bill has been sent to Oklahoma Senate Health and Human Services committee, where it could, among other things, pass to the Senate to be heard or not be heard this session.
The committee’s chairman, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, said he does not anticipate hearing the bill in the health and human services committee.
“The problem that I have is — this is just an example of creeping legislation, in that incrementally, we are outlawing tobacco, and rather than doing this a little bit at time, I’m saying, ‘Let’s just do this all at once,’” Crain said.
“Let’s either decide whether or not we are going to ban tobacco smoking in Oklahoma.”
There’s a conversation to be had about the fundamental issue of whether Oklahoma will ban tobacco or continue to use the efforts of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and the state Health Department to educate people on the dangers of smoking, Crain said.
“I’m a huge fan of education,” Crain said. “I don’t know that I’m a huge fan of forcing a prohibition on people.”
Gov. Mary Fallin said in her State of the State address that she supported the efforts to restore local control to cities and towns regarding tobacco use in public places. Fallin gave the example that many public health leaders point to — Pueblo, Colo.
Fallin said after the city of Pueblo implemented a tobacco ban in local taverns and restaurants, they saw a decrease in the city’s heart attack rate.
“The families living in cities and towns across Oklahoma deserve that same opportunity,” Fallin said in her speech. “If communities want to take action to improve the health of their citizens, they should be able to do it.”