Smoke-Free Battle in Oklahoma Shows How Far Big Tobacco Will Go to Protect Profits

March 14, 2011

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In the spirit of Nick Naylor, the fictitious tobacco-industry lobbyist lampooned in the 2005 film Thank You for Smoking, lobbyists seeking to keep Oklahoma cities and towns from setting their own smoke-free policies are enjoying a business boom.

The Oklahoman reports that big tobacco companies have hired at least 13 lobbyists to try to defeat legislation that would let cities regulate smoking in public places.

Oklahoma currently prohibits localities from adopting smoke-free measures stronger than state law — a restriction instigated, not surprisingly, by the tobacco industry in the 1980s. A bill to repeal this prohibition is expected to come to a vote in the state legislature soon. Dozens of health and business groups are lobbying for it to protect everyone from deadly secondhand smoke and safeguard the health of workers in bars, restaurants and other workplaces.

This heavy-handed lobbying is not limited to Oklahoma. The tobacco industry is using similar tactics around the country as it fights smoke-free laws, tobacco taxes and other proven measures to reduce tobacco use.

Who will win?

The tobacco industry has a phalanx of lobbyists that The Oklahoman describes as having 'unfettered access to most legislators after years of working with them and supporting their campaigns.'

The supporters of local control have decades of research showing the serious health harms from secondhand smoke, years of experience that demonstrates smoke-free laws are good for business and broad public support for the right to breathe clean air.

Twenty-nine states and hundreds of cities have now enacted smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars. In Oklahoma, Big Tobacco is doing everything it can to stop the state from taking even the first step to join them.