Big Tobacco wins again
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, April 15, 2012
4/24/12 at 2:16 PM
This story originally mistakenly reported how many students smoke. The passage should have said 3 million students in the U.S. smoke, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
The story has been corrected.
A few weeks ago on this page, I wondered whether or not the "love fest" between Oklahoma lawmakers and the tobacco industry would continue this session.
Well, we have an answer: YES! Even in the face of close scrutiny and harsh criticism, a Senate committee has seen to it that cities in Oklahoma will not be able to enact stronger tobacco controls than allowed by state law. That means the tobacco industry can continue to concentrate all its plentiful lobbying resources in one place - the state Legislature - rather than have to deal with dozens of local governments that might care more about their own constituents than some well-compensated lobbyists. (Goodness knows the industry has the money to spend; according to one estimate, Big Tobacco spends a million dollars an hour to market its products.)
In fairness, there was a chance that the local-control legislation might have passed this year. One version made it out of the House and it's possible the Senate also might have passed a measure. But state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, would not let the bill come up in his Health and Human Services Committee. "If we're going to ban smoking, let's debate that issue rather than do it piece by piece," he said.
"How much government interference do we want?" he added. "It's getting to the point quite honestly where I have some real concerns."
So does the state Board of Health president, who said there "will continue to be many lives lost as a result of this" refusal to allow local control of tobacco.
Still best friends
Tobacco-control advocates have sought legislation for decades that would allow cities to enact stronger controls than allowed by the state. As far back as the mid-1980s, the tobacco industry has prevailed on this front.
That success prompted a Philip Morris official to celebrate in a 1989 memorandum: "Again, a love fest ... They are all best friends."
Twenty-five years later, there's apparently still a lot of love between some lawmakers and Big Tobacco, but health leaders aren't feeling any of it. "This development will have the very unfortunate consequence of slowing down our fight against the efforts and the effects of tobacco on the people of Oklahoma," said Dr. Jenny Alexopulos at a recent state health board meeting. "These include heart disease, lung disease, cancer, peripheral vascular disease, the list goes on.
"There will continue to be many lives lost as a result of this, on the order of approximately 6,000 Oklahomans per year."
Teens most at risk
Many of the people who will be affected by the lack of local controls are today's teenagers, who are especially vulnerable to the deadly effects of tobacco. According to state Health Department data, 87,000 Oklahoma youths alive today will eventually die from smoking.
The latest Surgeon General's report on tobacco, the 31st since 1964, released just weeks ago, calls tobacco use among young people a "pediatric epidemic."
Three million students in the U.S. smoke, according to the U.S. Surgeon General.
About 30 percent of Oklahoma students in grades 6 to 8 have tried smoking and more than half of those in grades 9 through 12 have tried it.
The most shocking finding: One in 10 of high school students tried their first whole cigarette before age 11, and 15 percent of middle-school students smoked their first cigarette before age 11.
"Among those who persist in smoking, one-half will die about 13 years earlier than his or her nonsmoking peers," concluded the Surgeon General's report. Among youth who continue smoking, a third will die prematurely from tobacco use.
Smoking even retards lung growth in young users. "Teens who smoke are not only short of breath today, they may end up as adults with lungs that will never grow to full capacity. Such damage is permanent and increases the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," the report explained.
The fact that 99 percent of all first tobacco use occurs by age 26 is especially alarming in light of the fact that "early use of tobacco has substantial health risks that begin almost immediately in adolescence and young adulthood, including impairment of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems."
"Many of the long-term diseases associated with smoking, such as lung cancer, are more likely among those who begin to smoke earlier."
During the 1990s, thanks to a variety of factors and activities, the nation saw substantial decreases in tobacco use among teens and young adults. "However, there has been a leveling off in the past few years, particularly since 2007, and in some groups there are increases in the prevalence of tobacco use," the report noted.
Because tobacco use has been so extensively studied, it is now well know how its use can be curtailed. "There is a large, robust and consistent evidence base that documents known effective strategies in reducing the initiation, prevalence, and intensity of smoking among youth and young adults," the report said.
These strategies include, among others, higher tobacco prices, mass media campaigns, school-based programs and "high-impact legislative and regulatory strategies." Tough, clean indoor-air laws have been shown to be influential in reducing youth smoking and increasing the probability of smoking cessation among young adults, studies have shown.
In summary, the surgeon general concluded that the "establishment of smoke-free public and workplace environments; and statewide, community-wide and school-based programs and policies are effective in reducing the initiation, prevalence and intensity of smoking among youth and young adults."
So in other words, if Oklahoma leaders would pave the way for stronger tobacco-control policies at the local level - which has been done in 48 other states - then there's a very good change lots of Oklahoma teens would never take up the deadly habit, and would live much longer, healthier, happier lives.
Lawmakers still have the ability to resurrect a local-control measure. But rather than look out for the future of Oklahoma's young people, some lawmakers appear to be looking out for the future of the tobacco industry. You have to wonder why.
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328