OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of leading health organizations Thursday released the following statement in strong opposition to a resolution that would allow the Legislature to remove current voter protections on funding for vital Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) programs:
“The Legislature is considering a dangerous and ill-advised resolution to shift focus and funding away from tobacco prevention and cessation – a move that will incur a large human cost. Oklahoma voters wisely established these lifesaving programs in 2000 to help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease, the state’s leading causes of death.
“SJR 45 undermines the dedication of incoming tobacco settlement payments to cancer and heart disease prevention in Oklahoma. Our elected state leaders should heed their obligations to use tobacco settlement dollars to support these programs that save lives by preventing tobacco use. The resolution does a great disservice to public health by allowing the Legislature to intercept 100 percent of annual payments received by the state from tobacco companies, and it recommends that annual proceeds from those investments be spent on programs outside of tobacco prevention and cessation.
“Simply put, this is a life-threatening resolution. Already, the state of Oklahoma is spending less than 5 percent of its annual tobacco revenue (tobacco taxes and tobacco settlement payments combined) on tobacco prevention and cessation. This resolution will significantly lower the state’s support for its highly successful tobacco control program — potentially wiping it out completely.
“SJR 45 will contribute to more tobacco use, more tobacco-related disease and more preventable tobacco-caused health care costs for Oklahoma and its taxpayers. This resolution lays the groundwork to terminate grants and programs focused on reducing the tobacco use, poor diet and physical inactivity that lead to four chronic diseases – cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and lung disease. Those illnesses are responsible for 60 percent of deaths in Oklahoma.
“It’s important to remember that there is only one tobacco settlement agreement. The states can’t sue a second time. Oklahoma needs to get this right and spend tobacco-related settlement revenues on programs that break the cycle of tobacco addiction. We have the ninth-highest proportion of smoking-related cancer deaths in the United States. Diverting tobacco settlement monies away from programs that decrease tobacco use now will put future generations at increased risk for death and disease caused by tobacco use.
“If we are serious about fighting the death, disease and preventable costs caused by tobacco, opposing SJR 45 is a critical step.”