'State of Tobacco Control' Report: Oklahoma Must Prioritize Public Health over the Tobacco Industry

Oklahoma earns D in Smokefree Air, Lung Association calls on state officials to pass a comprehensive statewide smokefree law

Today, the American Lung Association released the 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report, which finds that in 2019 Oklahoma earned failing grades on its efforts to reduce and prevent tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. The American Lung Association finds opportunities in 2020 for Oklahoma officials to take action and pass a comprehensive smokefree law in order to support public health and save lives in 2020.

The need for Oklahoma to take action to protect youth from all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, is more urgent than ever, with the youth vaping epidemic continuing its alarming rise to 27.5% or more than one in four high school students. This is a staggering 135% increase in high school e-cigarette use in just the past two years, and close to three million more kids started vaping in that time period, setting them up for a lifetime of addiction.

“In Oklahoma, our tobacco use rates remain at 28.6%. Sadly, with the youth vaping epidemic still rising, we may have lost an opportunity to make the current generation of kids the first tobacco-free generation. Tobacco use is a serious addiction and Oklahoma needs to implement the proven measures to prevent and reduce tobacco use outlined in ‘State of Tobacco Control’,” said JoAnna Strother, advocacy senior director for the Lung Association.

The 18th annual “State of Tobacco Control” report grades states and the federal government on policies proven to prevent and reduce tobacco use, and finds that elected officials should do more to save lives and ensure all Oklahoma residents benefit from reductions in tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

Oklahoma’s Grades:

  • Funding for State Tobacco Prevention Programs – Grade D
  • Strength of Smokefree Workplace Laws - Grade D
  • Level of State Tobacco Taxes - Grade D
  • Coverage and Access to Services to Quit Tobacco - Grade D
  • Minimum Age of Sale for Tobacco Products to 21 – Grade F

The American Lung Association encourages Oklahoma to put in place all the public policies called for in “State of Tobacco Control,” and in particular, this year’s report noted the need to focus on passing a comprehensive smokefree law. The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. If Oklahoma passed a comprehensive smokefree law that eliminates smoking in all public places and workplaces, including restaurants, bars and casinos, workers across the state would be protected from deadly secondhand smoke. E-cigarettes should also be included in comprehensive smokefree laws. This health protection would benefit everyone and is especially critical for those who work in the service and manufacturing sectors who are often exposed to secondhand smoke and e-cigarette aerosol daily. “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 so that they could afford to put food on the table,” said Strother.

One powerful tool to address the youth vaping epidemic is increasing the minimum age of sale for tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to 21. The U.S. Congress finished off 2019 with a huge victory passing a federal law to increase the national tobacco sales age to 21. This law will ensure that all states have a sales age of 21 in 2020. Virtually all adult smokers had their first cigarette before age 21, and most before the age of 18. 

However, Congress failed to pass legislation to eliminate all flavored tobacco products, making the need for state action to end the sale of all flavored products critical. Massachusetts took that historic step by prohibiting the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes in November 2019, becoming the first such state to do so. The Lung Association urges more states to follow Massachusetts’ lead and pass comprehensive laws eliminating flavored tobacco products in 2020.

The question remains, will 2020 be the year that public health is prioritized over tobacco product manufacturers so that another generation is spared the addiction to dangerous tobacco products? As the result of successful lawsuits filed by the American Lung Association and several public health partners, FDA will be required to take several important and long overdue actions to protect the public health from tobacco products in 2020. These include finalizing graphic warning labels on all cigarette packs by March 15, and requiring all e-cigarette, and most cigar, hookah, pipe and other manufacturers of deemed products to submit applications to FDA by May 12, 2020 to remain on the market in the U.S. 

For media interested in speaking with an expert about the “State of Tobacco Control” report, lung health, tobacco use and tobacco control policies, contact the American Lung Association at [email protected] or 312-445-2501.

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