New safeguards designed to keep tobacco products out of the hands of Oklahoma youngsters will be on the agenda when the Legislature convenes in February.
State Senator Mike Morgan has filed SB 1310 - legislation that would strengthen state laws that address tobacco sales to minors and related issues.
"We've tried to make it as difficult as possible for kids to get their hands on cigarettes and other tobacco products, but unfortunately, our law aren't as tough as they could be. Given the serious health risks involved, I think it's our responsibility to do everything we can to make sure that youngsters don't have access to tobacco," said Sen. Morgan.
Among other things, SB 1310 would require stores to place all tobacco products behind a counter out of the reach of minors and restrict the placement of cigarette vending machines to locations that can only be accessed by adults. The measure would also beef up an existing statute that allows penalties to be assessed against store owners if they are repeatedly caught selling the product to minors. It would also allow municipalities to adopt tougher smoking ordinances than those allowed by the state.
In addition to strengthening Oklahoma's efforts to combat youth tobacco use, the legislation would help the state retain its share of federal funds allocated under the so-called "Synar Amendment." That legislation requires states to meet an 80 percent compliance rate on youth tobacco laws in order to receive a full allocation of a state substance abuse prevention and treatment block grant.
According to state health officials, Oklahoma almost lost approximately $7 million in federal funding last year when its compliance rate came close to slipping below the required level.
"We don't want to risk losing any federal funds, especially at a time when the state is facing a very tight budget situation. If we can retain those dollars just by doing a better job of restricting minors' access to cigarettes, we should do it," said Sen. Morgan.
The Stillwater legislator noted that a survey conducted last year showed that the Oklahoma public overwhelmingly supports a "get tough" approach when it comes to youths and the availability of tobacco products.
The poll, conducted in April of 2001 and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, included the following findings:
"The poll shows that people want the state to adopt a tougher approach when it comes to tobacco sales to minors. I think this legislation does just that by offering some common sense solutions to a very serious health problem," said Sen. Morgan.
According to state health statistics, more than 14,000 Oklahoma youngsters become addicted to tobacco every year. Approximately 6,000 Oklahomans die of smoking-related illnesses each year.
SB 1310 has been filed for consideration during the 2002 legislative session that convenes on February 4th.