Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Renewed effort to restore local rights regarding tobacco

Recently published an Op-Ed from Oklahoma's Commissioner of Health, Terry Cline, about the need to restore local rights to communities when passing tobacco policies. You can read it below.
BY TERRY CLINE Oklahoman 3

Published: November 21, 2010

Did you know that because of tobacco industry tactics in Oklahoma, the community where you live does not have the ability to adopt and enforce effective tobacco prevention ordinances?

AdvertisementIn 1987 and 1994, tobacco industry lobbyists at the state Capitol were successful in advocating for special clauses to be placed in state tobacco laws that took away the rights of Oklahoma communities to enact any tobacco-related ordinance stronger than state law.

Oklahoma is one of only two states with these stringent restrictions on tobacco issues. This means your community leaders cannot respond to local needs to develop tobacco prevention ordinances that would improve and protect the health of citizens, compete for new businesses and new residents, and create a healthier work force.

This year, restoring these essential local rights to communities is a legislative priority of the Oklahoma Health Improvement Plan, the State Turning Point Council and the Oklahoma Municipal League. Also in strong support are dozens of other major organizations including the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, Oklahoma State Medical Association, Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oklahoma.

The measure has been formally endorsed by the State Board of Health, as well as the city-county boards of health for Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Restoring local rights on tobacco prevention policies would allow the opportunity for you and other citizens to engage in a meaningful local dialogue to help determine what's best for your community.

The only organizations that oppose this measure are tobacco companies or those closely affiliated with the tobacco industry. An argument offered by one major convenience store chain is that restoring local rights will place burdens and hardships on their stores. However, this same business, with stores in eight other states, operates almost entirely where there are no restrictions placed on local rights. Their arguments simply do not hold water. Internal industry documents prove that tobacco lobbyists and their partners are only trying to block local action and maintain all control over tobacco issues at the state level.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that improving the health of workers results in better fiscal health for employers. A growing number of Oklahoma communities and local chambers of commerce believe economic development through a healthier work force is vital to their continued growth. Reducing tobacco use among workers generates ongoing financial returns from reduced health care costs, increased on-the-job productivity, reduced health insurance costs and reduced absenteeism.

Oklahomans are known for our independence, yet we've allowed an industry to take away our local rights for their own profit. If you believe control of these issues should be at the local level rather than only at the state level, then now is the time to tell your legislators you want these key local rights restored.

Cline is Oklahoma's health commissioner.

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