Tobacco ban on state property takes effect Monday
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Sunday, August 05, 2012
8/05/12 at 8:03 AM
Gov. Mary Fallin's state property tobacco ban takes full effect Monday.
Simply put, that means no smoking, dipping or chewing of tobacco by anyone in any building, vehicle or land owned or rented by the state.
"Prohibiting tobacco use on state property will save lives, save tax dollars, and produce a healthier and more productive work force," Fallin said in a statement to the Tulsa World. "The executive order prohibiting tobacco use on state property is a way for state government and state employees to lead by example, and to help create a healthier and more prosperous Oklahoma."
It all seems simple enough, but in the six months since Fallin signed her executive orders, state agencies have run into several complications and variations on how the governor's executive proclamation will be implemented.
In Tulsa, Monday's biggest change will be at Tulsa Community College. Other local state college campuses and the Edmondson State Office Building had previously gone tobacco-free.
Although smoking has long been prohibited in TCC's buildings, the school has set aside outdoor smoking areas.
With the new policy, the ashtrays in those areas will be removed and the space rededicated to horticultural uses, TCC spokeswoman Lauren Brookey said.
TCC's new tobacco rules are strict, even banning people from smoking in the school's parking lots in their own cars. The rules apply not just to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, snuff, smokeless pouches and loose-leaf tobacco, but also hookahs and electronic cigarettes, some of which contain nicotine but not tobacco.
Anyone who breaks the rules will be asked politely to stop, Brookey said.
Students who persist in breaking the rules will be referred to the school's dean of students. Employees will be referred to their supervisors or the school's human resources department. After repeated violations, campus police can issue $10 citations to violators or seek no-trespass orders against campus visitors.
Two TCC students who were using the school's metro campus smoking area last week were ready to accept the rules.
Marcus Russell, a cigar smoker, said the policy is a good thing, pointing out that he picked up smoking as a habit at a public school campus when he was 14. He has tried to quit from time to time but has never been successful.
He said he will probably smoke while he is walking to school from his nearby office, but will obey the rules on TCC property.
Evelina White, who has smoked for 14 years, said she'll probably end up going off school property to smoke because of the rules.
She, too, has tried to kick her pack-a-day habit in the past and might again because of the new rules. But she said smoking is a way of relieving stress, and she will miss it.
"If we have to go across the street or somewhere far just to smoke, it's going to be difficult," she said.
Other state agencies are saying they will post signs about the tobacco ban, but won't use any efforts at enforcement beyond persuasion.
State lodges have been smoke-free for several years with very few problems, but state Park Director Kris Marek said there isn't much that the state will be able to do about people who use tobacco on state golf courses or campgrounds despite new signs.
Department officials have talked about what they could do if, for example, a camper complains about someone smoking close to their tent, she said. Park officials would probably speak to the smoker and urge them to move away from the area while smoking.
"It the politeness factor doesn't work, we really don't have the ability to do anything enforcement-wise," she said.
The Grand River Dam Authority has approved a policy that prohibits its employees from using tobacco while on the job or on any GRDA property. It prohibits visitors from using tobacco in its buildings, parking lots and land, and says law enforcement can be called to escort people off GRDA property if they persist in violating the rules.
However, the GRDA policy makes an exception for visitors to the agency's lakes.
While the policy "strongly discourages" outdoor tobacco use on Grand Lake, Lake Hudson or W.R. Holway Reservoir, there is no prohibition.
GRDA CEO Dan Sullivan said the agency discussed the issue with the governor's office and confirmed that Fallin's executive order did not extend to the lakes.
Fallin's office previously OK'd another small exception to her order - allowing current residents of state veterans centers to continue using tobacco in designated areas.
Workers, visitors and new residents of the facilities will not be allowed to use tobacco, and eventually the centers will be completely in compliance with the order.
Kenna Mitchell, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, said the department has worked out rules for people working or visiting its buildings, but isn't pursuing any enforcement for tobacco users who are merely using state highways.
"Technically, highways are state property, but the governor has a common-sense approach to this," Mitchell said.
Terri Watkins, spokeswoman for the Commissioners of the Land Office, said the agency has established a no-tobacco-use policy for the agency's building and vehicles but is still puzzling through how to deal with more than 750,000 acres of state land held in some 1,300 leases.
The land, including large swaths of Panhandle prairie on lease to ranchers, is managed by the commissioners office for the benefit of public schools and higher education.
Trooper Betsy Randolph, spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Highway Patrol, said the agency enforces state law, but executive orders aren't part of the criminal code. If a trooper is called to a state building because a smoker refuses to leave, they could be arrested for violating any number of state laws, possibly including trespassing, disrupting official state business or failure to obey a lawful order, she said.
"Obviously, we will respond on a case-by-case basis," she said.
State troopers have been prohibited from using tobacco in state vehicles for some time, she said.
Gov. Mary Fallin's state property tobacco ban goes into full effect on Monday. Here is a statement from Fallin to the Tulsa World concerning her executive order:
"As we all know, both the quality of life and the economy in Oklahoma continue to be dragged down by the state's poor health indicators. Oklahoma currently ranks 48th in the nation in health. That ranking is unworthy of our state and our citizens.
"It also comes with enormous costs in both human suffering and dollars and cents for families and businesses. Tobacco use, while not the only cause of these problems, certainly plays an outsized role.
"In fact, tobacco is not only the No. 1 cause of premature death in Oklahoma, it's also one of the leading factors in the skyrocketing costs of health insurance and medical care. The average Oklahoman pays $550 each year just to help pay for the costs of tobacco related illnesses, regardless of whether or not he or she is a smoker.
"Prohibiting tobacco use on state property will save lives, save tax dollars, and produce a healthier and more productive work force.
"The executive order prohibiting tobacco use on state property is a way for state government and state employees to lead by example, and to help create a healthier and more prosperous Oklahoma."
Original Print Headline: Clearing the air
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Evelina White smokes at Tulsa Community College last week. When the state's tobacco ban takes effect Monday, White said she probably will leave campus to smoke. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Gov. Mary Fallin's ban on tobacco on state property begins Monday. The governor says the ban will save lives and tax dollars. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Evelina White enjoys a cigarette at Tulsa Community College last week. When the state's tobacco ban takes effect Monday, White said she likely will leave campus to smoke. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World