Tobacco products at all state-owned and leased properties and in state-owned and leased buildings and vehicles will be banned effective July 1 under an executive order signed Monday by Gov. Mary Fallin.
The announcement drew applause, but groans were heard seconds later in the House of Representatives chamber when she announced the ban would mean the closing of a smoking room in the state Capitol for lawmakers and employees.
“You're going to like this one, too,” she joked as she announced the smoking room, in the Capitol's basement, would be remodeled — at no expense to the state — into a small fitness center. The state is seeking a grant from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust and the Oklahoma Hospital Association has agreed to match it, Fallin said.
The governor announced she had signed the tobacco ban during her State of the State speech to lawmakers, which kicks off this year's four-month legislative session. She said its purpose is to protect the health of employees and people visiting state-owned properties.
The ban also is intended to drive down one of the major factors of increasing health care costs for state employees, decrease employee absenteeism and increase productivity, according to the governor's office. The ban is expected to save the state $5.2 million annually.
Smoking is the No. 1 cause of death in Oklahoma and the U.S., the governor's office said. Fallin made the ban effective several months from now to give state employees time to consider taking smoking cessation programs.
It will be up to individual agencies to enforce the ban, said Alex Weintz, Fallin's communications director. However, the governor's office hopes it will be largely self-enforced.
The state Tourism and Recreation Department will post notices about the tobacco ban at its parks, campsites and lodges across the state to make sure visitors know about it, said agency spokeswoman Leslie Blair.
“We'll enforce the governor's order,” she said. “Our parks are a place where Oklahomans can come and exercise and get healthy and this ban goes hand-in-hand with that.”
Tracey Strader, executive director of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, said tobacco-free policies have little cost associated with them and create an environment that promotes healthy choices. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.