Packing It Up

With more than 700,000 members of the adult population hooked on tobacco, Oklahoma has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation.

According to Sally Carter, interim service chief at the Tobacco Use Prevention Service with the Oklahoma State Department of Health, tobacco-related costs total up to $750 for every Oklahoman each year – even those who do not smoke. For every $60 the tobacco industry spends per person to promote smoking in the state, only $6 is spent on prevention. On average, smokers miss 50 percent more work days than non-smokers, and each pack of cigarettes sold costs the state economy $7.62 in medical costs and lost productivity due to premature death and disease.

Do these numbers sound scary? They should. But agencies in Oklahoma are hard at work to change all of this.

“The Oklahoma State Plan for Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation has established a goal to reduce the prevalence of tobacco use in Oklahoma to the national average,” Carter says.

The plan focuses on three areas: cessation, prevention and protection from second-hand smoke. In addition, Carter lauds the aims of House Bill 2135, which would allow Oklahoma communities to pass smoking legislation that is stricter than current state requirements. The bill also is supported by numerous national organizations, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and American Lung Association.

The Tobacco Use Prevention Service is not the only organization in the thick of the state’s ongoing battle with tobacco addiction. The Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, or TSET, has taken funds the state received as part of the tobacco companies’ settlement and invested them in Oklahoma’s future.

According to Sjonna Paulson, TSET’s director of communications, the interest and earnings of the dual endowment and trust have increased from $500,000 in FY 2003 to $18.5 million in FY 2011. TSET uses the results of their investments for smoking prevention programs, such statewide initiatives as Tobacco Stops With Me, community grants and cutting-edge research on cancer and tobacco-related diseases with the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center at the Stephenson Oklahoma Cancer Center.

In addition to fighting tobacco addiction – like the Tobacco Use Prevention Service, they aim to bring Oklahoma smoking down to the national average – TSET plans in the future to extend their efforts into improving the overall nutrition and health of every Oklahoman.
“When our goal is accomplished, there will be 200,000 fewer tobacco users in Oklahoma,” Carter says of the state’s efforts.

“That’s 200,000 more tobacco-free Oklahomans living healthier lives.”

Oklahomans interested in quitting tobacco can call the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline at 1.800.QUIT.NOW, where many free resources are available, or visit www.stopswithme.com.

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