Up in smoke

On a 6-2 vote, the Senate General Government Committee rejected Senate Bill 36, which sought to repeal the state pre-emption law that supersedes local governments.

SB 36 was referred to that panel after Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, had declined to grant a hearing on the legislation.

Gov. Mary Fallin had made the passage of SB 36 a key part of her legislative agenda, calling for its repeal in her State of the State speech earlier this month.

“This is a victory for tobacco lobbyists and the tobacco industry. It’s a defeat for the state of Oklahoma and anyone who cares about improving our health,” said Alex Weintz, Fallin’s communications director.

“Moving forward, Gov. Fallin will be pursuing alternative measures aimed at reducing deaths and illnesses caused by smoking and secondhand smoke.”

Senators voting against the measure were:
• Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City;
• Cliff Aldridge, R-Choctaw;
• Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow;
• Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant;
• Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher; and
• Bryce Marlatt, R-Woodward.

Two lawmakers — Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, and Roger Ballenger, D-Okmulgee — voted for it.

Doug Matheny, developer of the website tobaccomoney.com, noted that a vocal opponent of the repeal, Sen. Johnson, has received more than $10,000 in contributions and gifts from tobacco interests.

“It’s no coincidence that the senator who objected to a procedural motion to keep the bill alive … and who led the debate against the bill is the No. 1 recipient of campaign contributions, meals and gifts from the tobacco industry in the entire state Legislature,” said Matheny, a former director of the tobacco prevention program at the state Department of Health.

He added that SB 36 author Frank Simpson, R-Springer, is the “only Oklahoma senator who has pledged to refuse all such contributions from the tobacco industry.”

Oklahoma and Tennessee are the only states in which pre-emption limits municipal and county governments in terms of anti-smoking restrictions. Health advocates say repeal is necessary to help reduce nearly 6,000 smoking-related deaths in Oklahoma each year. The state has the fourth-highest smoking rate in the nation and ranks as the third highest in cardiovascular disease deaths.

Opponents of SB 36 argued it was unfair to businesses that allow smoking. 

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Phil Bacharach

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