Preemption and Oklahoma
Oklahoma is one of just two states that lack statewide clean indoor air laws while preventing its cities from enacting such measures of their own. Meanwhile, our state has the 14th highest adult smoking rate in the US. How could this be? One big reason is preemption.
Preemption is a legal principle. It prevents local communities from passing ordinances and policies that are stricter than state law. In Oklahoma, local governments are preempted from enacting stringent tobacco control laws in the following categories:
1.) Smoking in workplaces and public places
2.) Tobacco advertising
3.) Youth access to tobacco products
Let’s explore why it matters and what you can do to fight it.
How & Why Preemption Is Used
Big Tobacco sees preemption as a powerful legal tool used to stifle local government reforms through lobbyists and campaign donations. By flooding the state-level system with money, Big Tobacco gets the legislation they need to stop reform at the local level. Why is this a problem? Smokefree policies have not only shown to improve the health of a community, but often the local economy improves as well.
Tobacco companies see local tobacco control as a threat to their business model. They want tobacco addiction ingrained in the lives of Oklahomans. Big Tobacco’s legislative strategy works — and it’s paved the way for countless deaths while costing taxpayers billions in health care expenses. This paves the way for Big Tobacco shareholders to line their pockets.
How Preemption Began in OK
In 1986, the City of Edmond came close to passing local-level smokefree laws to protect its citizens. Big Tobacco caught wind of these and other efforts and stepped in to block local action with legal language written to be passed at the state level. From this point forward, Big Tobacco only had to focus on influencing state-level officials instead of spending money to fight local-level smokefree laws being considered by individual cities and towns in Oklahoma. Preemption in action.
There are two areas that are exempted from Oklahoma’s preemption clause: schools and city-owned property. This gives schools the ability to ban tobacco and vaping products on their property, along with any locations where school activities take place. The exemption also means school districts can ban tobacco sponsorships.
What can cities do with their exemptions? Generally, they can ban the use of tobacco products such as smoking, vaping and smokeless tobacco products from all city properties indoors and out — including parks and recreation facilities.
Why does it matter?
According to a 2022 survey by the OU Health Sciences Center, 78% of Oklahomans support a law making all public spaces smokefree. However, current state law is written to circumvent the interests of public health in order to protect Big Tobacco and its profits. Preemption keeps Oklahoma bars and workplaces open to tobacco products. It exposes non-smoking Oklahomans — patrons and workers alike — to dangerous, cancer-causing levels of secondhand smoke.
Preemptive measures that block a 100% smokefree law also impact Oklahoma convention and tourism dollars. Many national organizations have even signed agreements to avoid holding conventions in states that lack comprehensive smokefree laws. In Oklahoma, up to 25% of hotel/motel rooms can allow smoking, which can be a no-go for the nearly 85% of people in the U.S. who do not smoke.
The Big Tobacco sponsored laws in Oklahoma also expose Oklahoma children at home daycare centers. Because tobacco use is permitted at these daycares when children are not present, they are exposed to toxic tobacco residues on floors, furniture and toys. These unethical laws also fail to protect Oklahoma kids in cars from exposure to adults smoking and/or vaping tobacco products. These dangerous laws can have serious effects. Studies show that teens with parents who are dependent on nicotine have three times the odds of smoking at least one cigarette, and nearly twice the odds of developing nicotine dependence.
Clearly, a lack of common-sense tobacco policy in Oklahoma sets off a chain-reaction of consequences. Time and again, it’s regular Oklahomans — kids and adults — who pay the price with their health.
Why is Oklahoma so far behind other states? The answer is simple. Big Tobacco has manipulated Oklahoma policies for decades. That’s Not OK. However, Oklahoma has the opportunity to learn from dozens of other states which have 100% smokefree/vapefree laws. These states have laws that successfully protect citizens while also supporting a healthier, more competitive workforce — and economy.
What can you do?
There is hope. Remember, the majority of Oklahomans support common-sense tobacco policy. We have the numbers and, fortunately, other states have successfully abolished preemptive clauses, including Iowa, New Jersey, North Carolina and Nevada. Movements like this begin with people like you. Voices like yours.
How can you help? Educate your friends, family and community about the importance of protecting Oklahomans — and our youth — from tobacco. Join the fight by subscribing to the Tobacco Stops With Me newsletter.