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Anti-smoking report shows progress, problems in Oklahoma

Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman
Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City — Oklahoma has made some progress toward reducing smoking, but still has a long way to go, according to a new report from the American Lung Association.

The annual State of Tobacco Control report graded states on five aspects of policy: how much they spent on anti-tobacco programs; their indoor smoking laws; the amount of tax charged for tobacco products; the age when they allow youth to purchase tobacco; and how difficult they make it to access help quitting smoking.

Oklahoma got a B for access to help quitting and an F because it allows youth to purchase tobacco at age 18. The rest of its grades were Ds.

About one in five adult Oklahomans and one in eight high school students smoke.

JoAnna Strother, advocacy director for the lung association's west region, said one of the biggest changes Oklahoma could make to improve its grades would be to remove exemptions to its indoor smoking ban, such as allowing customers in bars and tribal casinos to smoke.

“Opportunities for better health begin where people work, live and play, and a person should not have to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke to put food on the table,” she said in a statement.

One bright spot in the report was that Oklahoma's helpline spends the equivalent of $11.50 for every smoker in the state offering resources to people looking to quit and advertising its services. That's substantially higher than the national mid-point of $2.21 per smoker.

The lung association also praised Oklahoma's Medicaid program for offering relatively easy access to medications that help smokers quit, though it docked a few points from the state's grade because Oklahoma hasn't expanded Medicaid, and because private insurers aren't required to offer the same coverage.

Oklahoma invested more in anti-tobacco programs than most states, spending about 53 percent of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to discourage youth from smoking and encourage smokers to quit. Oklahoma received a D in that category. All but seven states got an F because they spent less than half the CDC's recommendation.

Julie Bisbee, interim executive of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, said a coalition of public health groups has gathered to push some of the policies highlighted in the report, including raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco and closing exemptions in the state's indoor smoking ban. TSET oversees Oklahoma's share of a settlement from a lawsuit against major tobacco companies.

“We have made great strides in increasing access to the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, the report shows where state law changes could close the gap and protect Oklahomans from toxic secondhand smoke, and commonsense policies that would keep young (people) from starting tobacco and nicotine use.”

Meg Wingerter

Meg Wingerter has covered health at The Oklahoman since July 2017. Previously, she lived in Topeka, Kansas, and worked at Kansas News Service and The Topeka Capital-Journal, where she earned awards for business coverage. She graduated from... Read more ›