Okla. governor seeks statewide vote on smoking ban

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Associated Press

Posted on February 20, 2013 at 8:01 AM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 20 at 8:06 AM

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Mary Fallin said Tuesday she will push for a statewide vote in 2014 on a smoking ban designed to reduce second-hand smoke and promote a healthier state.

Flanked by dozens of health officials, mayors and state legislators, Fallin's announcement came a day after a Senate committee soundly rejected a bill she supported that would have allowed cities and towns to enact stricter smoking bans than currently exist in state law.

"The tobacco interests may have won a battle yesterday, but they definitely didn't win the war," Fallin said. "A setback is an opportunity for a comeback."

Although details of the ballot language haven't been finalized, Fallin said it could range from giving cities more authority to put bans in place to a statewide ban on smoking in public places. The goal is to have the measure on the ballot in 2014, the same year Fallin is up for reelection.

In order to place a proposed change in state law on the ballot, supporters have 90 days from the day a petition is filed to gather signatures from nearly 83,000 voters, or 8 percent of the number of votes cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election, according to the secretary of state's office.

Fallin said smoking "is a personal issue for me," noting that both of her parents smoked and died from smoking-related illnesses.

"My father died when he was younger than me," Fallin said. "He died before I ever got married. He never saw me run for political office."

A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company declined to comment on the initiative, and a telephone message left with Philip Morris USA was not immediately returned. The companies are the nation's two largest tobacco companies.

Under current Oklahoma law, smoking is not allowed in most indoor public places, but some exceptions include private offices, bars and restaurants with separately ventilated smoking rooms. Cities and towns also are prohibited from enacting stricter smoking bans than those already in state law, and according to an attorney general's opinion released earlier this month, cities cannot ban smoking even in city-owned outdoor parks and recreational areas.

Oklahoma, where more than 26 percent of adults currently smoke, has one of the highest smoking rates in the country, and tobacco-related illnesses kill about 6,000 Oklahomans every year, according to Secretary of Health Terry Cline.

A group supporting the initiative called Smoke-Free Oklahoma, headed by Bob Wright of the American Lung Association, will be working with the governor to develop the ballot language and a timeline for when the signature gathering effort will start. Wright acknowledged that a campaign to get the measure approved by voters likely will face fierce resistance from a well-financed tobacco industry.

"I don't think they're just going to roll over," Wright said. "I think probably the primary thing we need to look at is the strength of the people, and from that and through this proposal that the governor has put together, we hope to override that portion of money."

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Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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