Oklahoma City and Tulsa are among six of the largest cities in the United States that have weak laws regarding secondhand smoke in public places, according to a federal government report released this week.
Meanwhile, 30 of the 50 largest cities in the U.S. have provisions that prohibit smoking in any indoor area, including private workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released this week.
“Hundreds of cities and counties have passed their own smoke-free laws, including many communities in the South,” Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said in a statement.
“If we continue to progress as we have since 2000, all Americans could be protected from secondhand smoke exposure in workplaces and public places by 2020.”
State and city leaders say the main reason Oklahoma City and Tulsa do not have their own secondhand smoke ordinances is because they're not allowed to.
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.
Public health officials have spent the past few years working to change the law but have yet to succeed.
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.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said city leaders have been working with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department on tackling the issues of smoking and obesity.
“We have a number of proactive projects and programs on the obesity front, but on the smoking front, we're extremely limited because of state law,” Cornett said.
Cornett said if the state law were to change, the best approach would be for city officials in the Oklahoma City metro area to come together to pass similar ordinances. This would ensure that, for example, Oklahoma City, Bethany and Edmond didn't have different laws.
The CDC report outlined 20 cities not covered by either local or state comprehensive smoke-free laws. The CDC considers a smoke-free law to be comprehensive if it prohibits smoking in all indoor areas — private workplaces, restaurants and bars — with no exceptions, according to the report.
Although 14 of the cities have a smoke-free local or state provision in place in some regards, six cities have nothing in place — Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Los Angeles, Fresno, Calif., Virginia Beach, Va., and Atlanta, according to the report.
Smoking is known to harm nearly every organ of the body, according to the CDC. There is no “risk-free” level of contact with secondhand smoke either — even brief exposure can be harmful to health, federal health officials say.
Thursday, board members of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust passed a resolution urging Oklahoma lawmakers to either repeal the clause in Oklahoma's smoking law that prohibits local governments from adopting smoke-free workplace ordinances or enact a statewide law regarding smoking in workplaces.
Trust executive director Tracey Strader said there's no reason Oklahoma shouldn't pursue stricter smoking laws.
Changing the law isn't about telling people what they can and can't do, she said. It's about considering the rights of nonsmokers, whether that be people who work at or visit places where smoking is allowed, she said.
“People are sick, people are dying, and we know what works to prevent it,” she said.