GRADY COUNTY —
When it comes to tobacco and its use by Americans, it is remarkable what a difference a generation makes. Most of us remember that in the not too distant past, anyone of any age who could reach high enough to drop quarters into a vending machine was legally qualified to purchase a pack of cigarettes. Snuff was sold in containers that when empty were perfectly acceptable “designer glassware.”
What many do not remember is that as recently as 2004, the federal government was subsidizing the raising of tobacco as a cash crop. Fortunately, our society’s view of tobacco has changed and in Oklahoma many of our youth are playing an active role in that transition.
This awareness has come about because of the harsh reality that tobacco kills 16 Oklahomans each and every day. That is over 5,800 Oklahomans each year…more than car accidents, murders, alcohol and illegal drugs combined.
As of this year, 100% of the schools in Kiowa County, including Mt. View-Gotebo and Hobart have adopted 24/7 tobacco-free policies. Five of eleven schools in Caddo County, including Anadarko, Binger-Oney, Boone-Apache, Carnegie and Hydro-Eakly have adopted that same 24/7 tobacco-free policy, as has the Kiowa/Caddo Technology Center.
Several area schools have active Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT) Teams. Those in around District 56 and located in Caddo and Kiowa County include Binger-Oney, Boone-Apache, Carnegie, Cyril, Hydro-Eakly, Hobart and Mt. View-Gotebo.
Last week, I attended a tobacco education reception hosted by the Western Oklahoma Tobacco Control Coalition and the Caddo/Kiowa Tobacco Education Coalition. The presentation was extremely enlightening and included representatives from the State Department of Health and the American Cancer Society and a speech by Dr. Terry Cline, Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Health.
At the Program, I was fortunate to be seated with representatives from the Carnegie SWAT Team and enjoyed visiting with them and their sponsor and particularly enjoyed the presentation during the program by Kade Squires, of the Carnegie SWAT Team. Unfortunately, this year, almost 20,000 Oklahoma children will try their first cigarette and over 9,000 youth will become regular smokers.
Here is a mind boggling statistic for you…Tobacco use costs Oklahomans and Oklahoma businesses more than $2.2 billion annually in direct and indirect medical expenses and lost productivity. According to the 2012 report of the United Health Foundation, Oklahoma ranks 47th in the percentage of people who smoke, topped only by West Virginia, Kentucky and Arkansas.
It is not surprising that Oklahomans rank 43rd in the nation in overall health. I am inundated weekly with information from special interest groups about how tort reform, workers compensation reform and pension reform need to be addressed by the legislature to help bring jobs to Oklahoma. It would seem that if the citizens of Oklahoma working together, through the elimination of tobacco use, would add $2.2 billion annually to the bottom line of the businesses that employ them, employers would flock to this state to take advantage of healthy workers.
Listen to Kade and the SWAT team members from your community. They have the statistics and are ready, willing and able to address the problem of tobacco…for the COMMON GOOD.
The Constitution of the State of Oklahoma requires both houses of the state’s legislature to convene in January of each odd numbered year to organize and then to meet in joint session in the hall of the House of Representatives to formally recognize and publish the election results from the previous November.
According to mandate, the organizational session was held last week, and eight members of the House of Representatives were allowed to address the full House of Representatives.
I was honored and humbled to have the opportunity to be one of the eight members who were chosen to speak. I am appreciative to Senior Representative Joe Dorman for his role in allowing me an honor that is not normally offered to a freshman legislator.
During my speech, I urged the Oklahoma House of Representatives to do what is best for Oklahoma and to be courageous and unify to send a message of cohesion and bipartisanship. I encouraged them to move forward to find solutions to the problems faced by Oklahomans and that their showing of statesmanship would restore faith in the Oklahoma House of Representatives from Guymon to Broken Bow and from Miami to Altus. You can see my speech, as well as all house proceedings on the Oklahoma House of Representatives website.
In other business, the filing deadline for new legislation will be this week and I am still in the process of finalizing language and paring down my list of bills to the eight allowed by House rules. At this time, it appears that I will likely file two general government bills, three municipal government bills, two education bills and one tourism bill.