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Restoring local Rights to Communities on tobacco use

A woman smokes a cigarette in a restaurant in Munich

Special to the paper

Over the last three years state legislation to repeal tobacco preemption has been introduced. Each time the measure has failed to be heard by the full Oklahoma Legislature, despite demonstrated support from the more than 30 communities who have enacted city ordinances to ban tobacco use in areas of their communities where family and youth events typically occur. Municipalities have routinely and successfully utilized local forms of governance to ensure that the ordinances reflect the desires of the citizens closest to the issue at hand.

Now waiting action in the legislature is SB 36, which could be the single most influential piece of legislation in the state. It would provide the opportunity for local municipalities to have the freedom and responsibility to respond to the needs and desires of local residents and take action beyond the minimum standards established by state law. Repealing tobacco preemption does not set the stage for “creeping legislation” and “outlawing tobacco” across the state as one legislator remarked. On the contrary, restoring local rights puts the authority and responsibility with municipalities and their elected officials. Precedent has been set for local control in matters that impact education and economic development. Yet it appears that allowing local control in matters related to tobacco is exempt from the traditional attitude of the legislature to reduce the role big government plays in our lives.

A recent opinion released from the Attorney General’s Office highlights the need to restore local rights. The opinion, further interpreting the impact of the misguided 1987 state law preempting local rights on smoking in public places, has rendered these community efforts ineffectual. Despite grassroots efforts led by local government and citizens to reduce the harmful effects of tobacco use on our communities, we are once again putting faith and trust in our state elected officials. It would appear that even with support from multiple and diverse stakeholders, including the state’s highest ranking official, Gov. Mary Fallin, the measure may be poised to fail again.

Restoring local control to cities and towns regarding tobacco use in public places is critical to continuing our national reputation as a strong and independent state. We have refused to allow the federal government the power to dictate how we run our state; it is time to extend that attitude to the communities that represent us. At some point, we need to stand up for what is right, put aside agendas and politics, and look at our state and federal constitutional rights. This is the time we as constituents must require our elected officials to consider the communities they represent before the interests of the tobacco lobby. This is the time to require public debate around a matter that is critical to reduce the costly effects of first and secondhand tobacco use and its influence on the continued growth and economic development of our state. We are asking our Senators and Representatives to allow SB 36 to be heard so that all valid points of discussion can be addressed.

This commentary was provided by:
Stephen Cagle, MD, Chair, Oklahoma City/County Board of Health
Thomas H. Flesher III, MD, President, Oklahoma County Medical Society
Eric L Cottrill, MD, Tulsa County Medical Society
John A. Robinson, MD, President, Oklahoma State Medical Association
R. Murali Krishna, MD, President, Oklahoma State Board of Health

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