Pleasant Monday with highs in the low 70s

Health Dept. aims for tougher anti-smoking law

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Oklahoma City is still among the most unhealthy communities in the U.S.

One of the reasons? Our indoor smoking laws, or lack thereof.

This past legislative session, a bill died in a Senate committee that would have allowed local communities to be tougher on indoor smoking than state law allows.

The Health Department will not give up the fight and they've got the support of the state's capital city.

"It's a major crisis, I think, in this country,"  Oklahoma City Councilman Pete White said.

White said he believes when it comes to banning indoor smoking, the city council is better equipped than the state to make that decision.

"We're more experienced," he said. "I could give you about any way you want to define 'ability to make good decisions' and I think we're probably heads and shoulders above them (state lawmakers)."

White said it's hypocritical for state lawmakers to complain about the federal government's laws and then not allow cities to pass anti-smoking ordinances that are more restrictive than state law.

"Cigarette smoking and its health hazard is not something that you can debate any longer," White said.

But Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Dist. 31) has a different take.

"It's a free market issue," he said.

Murphy voted against the bill that would have given cities and towns the right to decide their smoking laws because he said it would have created a "nanny state" that would have set policies for private businesses.

"I'm a big believer that people are smart," Murphey said. "They're going to make educated choices and if a business has policies that endanger a person's health, then the person will make a choice not to go into that environment."

Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline said it's all about the public's health.

"Only three other states have higher smoking rates," he said.
Cline said states that allow communities to ban indoor smoking have reduced heart attack rates by up to 40 percent.

He calls Oklahoma's law "archaic."

"We have to drive those rates down," Cline said, "And I believe communities should be empowered to make those decisions for themselves."

White has an interesting take on businesses that have a "no smoking" section.

"A 'no smoking' section in a restaurant is like a 'no peeing' section in a swimming pool," White said.

Cline said HB 2267 died earlier this year because a dozen tobacco lobbyists were hard at work at the Capitol.

He said giving cities the power to completely ban indoor smoking will be the Health Department's top priority next year.