At the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, we know health begins at home. Recently there have been quite a few local articles about TSET and I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you why I’m proud to be a part of this work to help Oklahoma communities make the healthy choice the easy choice.
Local coalitions that successfully apply for grants through TSET’s Communities of Excellence program are making a difference in the lives of their friends and neighbors. Just as diseases like cancer or cardiovascular disease can impact generations, so can positive healthy behaviors and healthy communities.
Coalitions in the Communities of Excellence program work with school officials, youth, business leaders and city government officials to prevent tobacco use, increase physical activity and improve nutrition.
Certified Healthy Oklahoma is a separate program that encourages city leaders to promote health in their communities. The Certified Healthy Oklahoma program is a partnership between the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, the Oklahoma Turning Point Council, the State Chamber and State Department of Health. The criterion for Certified Healthy Cities – which includes limiting the use of e-cigarettes on city properties – are optional policies for city leaders to consider as part of the voluntary recognition program.
Once a city is designated as “Certified Healthy,” the city is eligible to apply for a separate grant from TSET as part of the Healthy Communities Incentive Grant program. The TSET Board of Directors awards these grants to cities that have taken steps to build thriving, healthy communities.
Over the past two years, the TSET Board of Directors has approved 35 incentive grants to cities. Tahlequah was awarded an $8,000 grant this year that supported construction of walking and biking trails near Town Branch Creek.
TSET is funded by earnings from investing payments from the tobacco industry that come to Oklahoma as part of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. Oklahoma was one of 46 states that sued to stop the tobacco industry practice of marketing an addictive and deadly product. Oklahoma voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment to create the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund.
TSET also funds the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, cutting-edge research in Oklahoma, award-winning educational media campaigns, a partnership to recruit physicians to rural, underserved areas and grants that seek to improve the health and wellness in our state’s hospital systems.
It’s only fitting that TSET grants support continued efforts to promote wellness and reduce the toll of tobacco on our state. Tobacco use remains our state’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. Nicotine, derived from tobacco, is highly addictive, especially for the developing brain of a teen.
Big changes start small. Dedicated leaders – with the support of their local residents – can create a healthier community to help citizens live longer and healthier lives.
To learn more about your local coalition, contact the Community Health Coalition of Cherokee County at (918) 506-4058.
Dr. George Foster, Park Hill, is dean emeritus of the Northeastern State University Oklahoma College of Optometry and vice chairman of the TSET Board of Directors.