By Ken Miller
OKLAHOMA CITY — Pushing a measure to allow cities and towns in Oklahoma to pass anti-smoking ordinances that are more restrictive than state law will be the Oklahoma State Department of Health's top priority in the upcoming legislative session, state health officials said Tuesday.
Oklahoma law currently prohibits local anti-smoking ordinances that are more restrictive than state law and a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control singled out Oklahoma City and Tulsa for not having indoor smoking bans.
Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline noted that bill that would have allowed for stronger local ordinances passed the House during the legislative session earlier this year but died in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
"What's so ironic about that is the bill focused on simply returning the decision-making to local communities," Cline said. "At the same time we hear a group of individuals railing against 'we "don't want decisions made in Washington, D.C., we want those decisions made closer to home,' we're not applying that same principal when it comes to tobacco," in Oklahoma.
"The Legislature is telling us they'd rather that decision made at the state Capitol rather than having local communities make those decisions," Cline said.
The 101-member House passed the bill 57-30, according to online House records.
Among those voting against the bill was Rep. T.W. Shannon, a Republican from Lawton who is the House speaker-elect for the 2013 session that begins in February. Shannon did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment on the proposal.
Oklahoma State Board of Health President, Dr. R. Murali Krishna, said health officials need to do more to inform lawmakers about the health risks of smoking.
"I hope that we will be able to assist Speaker Shannon to take an issue in favor of adequate administration to control tobacco for local rights," Krishna said.
Cline said the goal is to continue reducing the number of smokers in Oklahoma, currently estimated at about 25 percent of the state's population.
"One way to do that is to unleash the power of communities to take action on their own," Cline said.