By ROB W. ANDERSON
Anti-tobacco legislation recently signed into law by Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin has some local residents expressing concern over what they view is another liberty lost, while others are pleased with measures they believe will protect public health.
Senate Bill 501, by Sen. Frank Simpson, R-Springer, and Rep. Pat Ownbey, R-Ardmore, became state law April 29. The anti-tobacco legislation gives communities local control over smoking in public parks and municipal facilities, and prohibits use of all tobacco products in state-owned or leased buildings, land and vehicles.
Due to the efforts of the youth organizations Students Working Against Tobacco and Reaching Our Hulbert Community, along with the Cherokee County Tobacco Control Coalition, Tahlequah and Hulbert city governments enacted ordinances making it illegal to use tobacco products in city parks. SB 501 will strengthen those efforts, said Tahlequah City Mayor Jason Nichols.
“I’m pleased the bill passed and that the governor signed it. It provides cities with a valuable tool to help reduce tobacco and increase community health,” Nichols said. “Tahlequah’s parks and facilities were already designated tobacco-free, and it’s good to have legislation that supports that policy.”
Communities of Excellence Coordinator Carol Choate, with the Cherokee County Health Services Council, said passage of SB 501 is a public health victory that should be applauded.
“I applaud Gov. Fallin, our legislators and all those tobacco warriors who know tobacco is not about the smoker. It is about the health of the community and our state,” Choate said. “In 2010, our local elected officials saw the health benefits of tobacco-free parks. There are now approximately a dozen municipalities in Oklahoma, including Hulbert, with tobacco-free parks. Today, all parks in Cherokee County are tobacco-free, thanks to this recent legislation signed by Gov. Fallin.”
The tobacco-free law also applies to all Cherokee County walking and bicycle trails, golf courses, ballparks, skateparks and other fields or facilities used for sporting events.
Before the city parks ordinance was passed in Tahlequah in 2010, the Cherokee County SWAT youth picked up 4,923 cigarette butts in Sequoyah City Park, said Choate.
“Tobacco-free parks eliminate harmful cigarette litter. Cigarette butts are the most common source of litter in the world,” she said. “Cigarette butts are like tiny toxic waste dumps that pollute our environment and water sources. They are not biodegradable and will have an effect on our environment forever.”
ROHC Project Director Shasta Teague said SB 501 will help empower local governments to take another step for a healthier community.
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