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Doctors seeking control over smoking rules

OKLAHOMA CITY —

Describing tobacco as the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Oklahoma, the state's health commissioner Monday called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow cities and towns adopt anti-smoking ordinances that are more restrictive than state law.

Dr. Terry Cline, accompanied by a group of physicians, said giving local communities the authority to ban smoking in parks and other public places as well as restaurants and bars would help save the lives of the 6,200 Oklahomans who die from smoking-related illnesses each year.

"It's good for health. It's good for our state," said Cline, a clinical psychologist who serves as Gov. Mary Fallin's secretary of health and human services. In her State of the State address to the Legislature on Feb. 4, Fallin endorsed the measure, which is similar to a bill that died last year.

The measure, Senate Bill 36, is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. The committee's chairman, Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

Currently, Oklahoma prohibits smoking in indoor workplaces, including restaurants and hotels, unless a separate ventilation system is installed for ventilating the smoking area. Smoking is allowed in bars, private clubs and other enclosed spaces as well as designated employee smoking areas.

State law preempts local governments from enacting smoking regulations that are more restrictive then state law, a regulation the physicians said prevents local governments from protecting their citizens from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

"We do not need the state government telling us what to do as far as our personal behavior," said Dr. Eric Cottrill, president of the Tulsa County Medical Society. "What this comes down to is local control."

"We have to protect our citizens from secondhand smoke," said Dr. Murali Krishna, president of the Oklahoma State Board of Health.

"Certainly, not every community will adopt new ordinances," said Dr. Tom Flesher, president of the Oklahoma County Medical Society. "But those that want to should be able to do so without the state government prohibiting them from protecting their communities."

Cline said the measure is the single most important bill pending in the Legislature this year to improve the health of Oklahomans.

Information distributed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association indicates that 87,000 children younger than 18 in Oklahoma will ultimately die prematurely due to smoking and that smoking kills more Oklahomans each year than deaths caused by alcohol, illegal drugs, murders, suicides and AIDS combined.

Oklahoma taxpayers pay $1.16 billion annually to treat tobacco-related health care costs, and smoking causes $1.73 billion in lost productivity for Oklahoma businesses each year.

Every Oklahoma household will pay $547 in state and federal taxes this year to pay for tobacco-caused illness under Medicare and Medicaid, according to the OSMA.

Copyright The Associated Press

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