Gov. Mary Fallin used a piece of her State of the State speech to say she supports letting cities and towns craft their own anti-smoking laws. “If a community wants to take action to improve the health of their citizens, let's let them do it,” she said.
Fallin's backing may help get this effort across the finish line. State Health Commissioner Terry Cline has been trying for years to sway the Legislature, which has rebuffed him for one reason or another.
Two years ago, overly broad language doomed the bill's chances. That bill would have let municipalities pass laws not just regarding where people can smoke, but also concerning such things as the advertising, display and taxation of tobacco products. Retailers squawked about that, with good reason.
The language was removed and last year the bill made it out of the House but stalled in a Senate committee. Cline is concerned that this year's bill, Senate Bill 36 by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Ardmore, has been assigned to the same committee where it died last year.
The Senate should give the bill every consideration. It doesn't let cities dictate where and how tobacco is marketed, sold or taxed. It's intended to give municipalities the discretion to make public places, such as restaurants and bars, smoke free if they choose.
The Oklahoma Restaurant Association opposes the bill, saying it would be unfair to businesses. But Cline points out that in other states that allow local control, businesses haven't been adversely affected. And changing the law could improve health outcomes in Oklahoma and reduce tobacco-related costs, which are monumental — Oklahoma businesses, for example, spend $1.7 billion annually for health-related illness and lost productivity.
Legislators often preach the importance of local control in schools and other areas, yet they've been OK with the state dictating cities' and towns' smoke-free policies. Fallin's right: This needs to change.