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Smoke up

Gazette staff February 26th, 2013

We’ll say this for Big Tobacco: Even a widely vilified industry that makes its profit from killing people knows how to wield power. That much was evident last week when the Senate General Government Committee killed a bill that would have let cities craft stronger antismoking ordinances than what’s allowed by state law.

Credit: Brad Gregg

Current statute pre-empts municipalities from enacting smoking ordinances stricter than what state law has enacted.

The measure to repeal that preemption was strongly backed by Gov. Mary Fallin, who had made it a key part of her legislative agenda.

Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher, headed much of the committee debate against the measure. It is likely sheer coincidence that he’s also the state’s top recipient for receiving campaign contributions from tobacco interests.

The total investment in Johnson by tobacco-related groups and individuals is more than $10,000, according to

The lawmaker insisted he doesn’t keep track of what lobbyists donate to him and said that such contributions had nothing to do with his stance on the issue. Senate Bill 36, he had argued, would infringe on the rights of business people.

The right of people not to breathe secondhand smoke? Not so much.

The failure of that bill to scrap tobacco pre-emption — heck, its failure to even pass out of a Senate committee — didn’t exactly reflect well for the power-broker skills of Fallin.

But the governor impressively turned lemons into tobacco-hating lemonade. The day after the defeat of SB 36, Fallin unveiled an initiative petition to push for restrictions on secondhand smoke.

Credit: Brad Gregg

“Improving health and wellness in Oklahoma is a priority for me,” said Fallin, who noted in her State of the State speech that both of her parents had died of smoking-related illness.

“Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in Oklahoma, killing 6,000 men and women each year. Hundreds of these people aren’t even smokers and have instead fallen ill as a result of secondhand smoke.”

She made the announcement in a news conference at the state Capitol, where an observer had even come costumed as the Grim Reaper.

Presumably, the governor had not invited him and his scythe for a photo-op the day she rejected federal dollars for a Medicaid expansion that would cover about 180,000 people not currently eligible.

People can sign the petition at

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