November 27, 2012

Local group takes on tobacco

James Bright
The Express-Star

GRADY COUNTY — It's common to here complaints about how government allocated tax dollars. Every one seems to have their opinion about how money should be spent and what coalitions are receiving too much or too little.

Few dispute the importance of battling big tobacco though and that's where the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust comes into play.

Formed by the Oklahoma state Legislature the TSET allocates grant money to different groups whose purpose is to educate the state's citizens about big tobacco's methods and efforts in spreading their products to the masses.

Program Coordinator for the Tobacco Free Grady County Coalition Breanna Russell has taken this fight local.

"Our overall goal is trying to change social norms," she said. "We like to use the state issued breath easy signs and those seem to speak volumes to people."

Russell emphasized that the coalition is not against smokers. She said it simply stands for education and attempting to expose the actions of big tobacco.

"When an adult passes away from tobacco use, big tobacco targets a kid to replace that person," she said. "Data shows that 90 percent of tobacco use starts before the age of 18."

Things are so bad in Oklahoma that Russell said the state ranks 48th in the nation in overall health.

There is hope though according to Russell. She said her work with Grady County cities to adopt state law regarding tobacco use.

The coalition also works with local school boards to educate and engage students in their fight against big tobacco.

The coalition receives $125,000 annually allocated from the state in the form of a grant program, which the Norman Regional Health System picks up.

Every year the group reassesses what to do with the money and how to continue their fight and educational efforts.

The coalition meets the first Wednesday of every month from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Canadian Valley Technology Center.