Oklahoma Senators Wednesday sent legislation strengthening Oklahoma’s laws prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors to the desk of Governor Brad Henry.
State leaders estimate that Senate Bill 1256, if signed into law by the governor, will protect $7 million in federal funding the state receives for substance abuse programs managed by the Department of Mental Health, said Senator Ben Robinson, author of the bill.
For two of the last three years, Oklahoma narrowly avoided being out of compliance with federal regulations aimed at limiting tobacco sales to minors. As a result our state nearly lost those federal funds.
“But this is about something far more important than money. It’s about saving the lives of our state’s young people and future generations. Passage of this legislation is an important victory for the health of our state,” Robinson said.
He said statistics indicate that every day, an average of 26 Oklahoma children become regular smokers. Roughly one out of three of them will die as a direct result.
“If we can stop our children from starting to smoke, we can save lives. It really is just that simple,” Robinson said.
Senate Bill 1256 prohibits the use of self-serve tobacco displays often used to sell smokeless tobacco products and restricts the placement of tobacco product vending machines away from areas that are open to minors.
The legislation closes loopholes to ensure that to buy tobacco products, Oklahomans have to ask a clerk for the product.
By making sure that everyone who buys cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products has to ask for them, the clerk is given a clear opportunity to check the age of the potential customer. If that person is under 18, the clerk is then required not to sell them cigarettes or smokeless tobacco products.
“This bill should embolden the clerks and make minors more timid about breaking the law,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Cal Hobson.
In addition, Senate Bill 1256 stiffens the penalties for those who sell tobacco to minors and extends the tougher penalties beyond the clerks to the store owners who could temporarily lose their license to sell tobacco products, Robinson said.