The House of Representatives is the next stop for a measure that will strengthen state laws banning tobacco use on school property. Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, and Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, are principal authors of Senate Bill 674, the “24/7 Tobacco-Free Schools Act,” which was approved by the full Senate on Thursday.
“This takes the tobacco-free campus a step further because designated areas for tobacco use would no longer be allowed, better protecting students, faculty and visitors from harmful exposure,” Halligan said. “This would apply to all public and private schools as well as colleges and career techs.”
SB 674 was requested by the American Cancer Society which sites tobacco use as the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Halligan, a former president of Oklahoma State University and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education Chair said his service on a hospital governing board shown him that ultimately everyone pays the high cost of tobacco use.
“We spend a lot of money, particularly in the emergency room, for people who have unfortunately consumed tobacco in one form or another for many, many years,” Halligan said. “Our society at large has to pay those bills.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the cost of tobacco use in this country is more than $289 billion a year, including at least $133 billion in direct medical care for adults and more than $156 billion in lost productivity. The CDC reports an additional $5.6 billion a year in lost productivity from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Halligan said the bill makes another important change to existing law, which currently calls for a mandatory minimum fine of $10 for using tobacco products on campuses.
“Obviously if someone is repeatedly or blatantly ignoring the ban, a fine would be warranted. But we wanted to give the schools some discretion so that if a grandfather came to a college baseball game and was using chewing tobacco, the campus police could first talk to him and explain that tobacco products are not allowed, and not just automatically slap him with a fine. Under SB 674, the minimum fine would no longer be mandatory,” Halligan said.
The measure must next be assigned to a House committee for further consideration.