Bisbee: Tobacco Classification in Oklahoma

Julie Bisbee

There is a popular saying that insanity does the same thing over and over again and expects a different result. This idea is particularly relevant today, on Groundhog Day and the week before the start of a new legislative session.

While Oklahoma has made great strides in reducing smoking rates, dropping from 28.6% in 2001 to 19.1% in 2021, progress has been slowed by pro-tobacco laws. In our state, efforts to pass state laws supporting reduced tobacco use fail year after year. Smoking costs Oklahoma more than $1.6 billion and contributes to 7,500 preventable deaths each year. Like Phil Connors in the movie groundhog day, our state is in a time loop.

The American Lung Association just released its report on the state of tobacco control and gave Oklahoma D, D, and F grades for smoke-free air, tobacco taxes, and flavored tobacco products. , respectively.

Second-hand smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals, including 70 known carcinogens. While two-thirds of the United States is protected by comprehensive clean air laws, Oklahoma is one of only three states that not only does not have such a law, but also prevents communities to adopt stricter measures at the local level.

Additionally, Oklahoma lags the nation in taxation of tobacco products, a policy that has proven effective in reducing tobacco use. In fact, a bill that passed late last session narrowly redefined “smokeless tobacco” as products containing leaf tobacco like snuff or chewing tobacco.

By limiting the definition of tobacco, the law excludes products such as nicotine pouches, nicotine toothpicks and nail polish removers from tobacco taxes, making them more affordable. It also means that the state will lose revenue.

Finally, Oklahoma has no state laws or regulations restricting flavored tobacco and vaping products popular with youth. The flavors mask the harsh chemicals of tobacco and nicotine, making it easier to start and harder to quit.

Oklahoma performed well in two categories, receiving a C for funding smoking cessation and prevention and an A for access to cessation services through services funded by voter-created endowment revenues. who invests tobacco industry settlement payments.

We must celebrate our successes, but not at the cost of ignoring the opportunities for improvement and the potential for policies that save lives. Like Phil Connors, we must learn from our mistakes and do better.

With the start of another legislative session, Oklahoma has the opportunity to do just that.

Julie Bisbee is Executive Director of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, a voter-created granting trust dedicated to the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

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