At its current $1 tobacco tax, Oklahoma has one of the lowest rates in the country. courtesy CDC

Proposed anti-smoking policy harmful to workers

The policy removes protections for workers who smoke, mostly affecting those in rural areas.

Smoking and the use of tobacco is still a big issue in Oklahoma that affects many groups. The current rate of smoking in Oklahoma is 19.6 percent of the population. In addition, Oklahoma’s rate of high school smokers is higher than the national average by 4.9 percent. This is a major issue that harms all Oklahomans’ health, not just the smokers. To fix this, Oklahoma has adopted new legislation and taxes.

However, a recent plan created by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust, or TSET, plans to cut the number of smokers in half by a variety of different methods. TSET is a state government entity that was founded in 2000 to control the use of tobacco in Oklahoma. It was created after a nation-wide lawsuit weakened the role of smoking advertisements and required smoking companies to pay an annual fee to each state involved as long as they continued production. These new recent legislation ideas created by TSET include increasing the age of tobacco use from 18 to 21, prohibiting smoking in cars when children are present, raising penalties for selling to underaged users and raising the cigarette tax by $1.50, as well as many others.

The major problem with this new legislation is that it removes the active provisions that make it illegal to fire someone based on their smoking habits. Anti-smoking activities are a noble goal, but eroding the rights of workers is a dangerous proposition that will not lead to anything good.

This segment of the plan will mainly affect those in poorer demographics. Since the rise of anti-tobacco campaigns, those higher in socio-economic status are much less likely to smoke. The major users of cigarettes are now those who live in poor, rural areas.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national rate for smoking was around 15 percent in 2017. However, among those with a high school-level diploma, the rate is more than 40 percent. Rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. This data shows that the primary smoking audience is those who would be most hurt by losing their jobs.

While one could argue that this policy is a program of tough love that will force smokers to make the decision between their jobs and smoking, it is a dangerous gamble to make when considering who could be injured in the aftermath. By risking the livelihoods of these primarily poor smokers, you are not only hurting them but also their families or any form of dependents. While removing the policy of smoking is extremely important to improving the overall health of Oklahoma, it is not necessary to punish already-vulnerable people.

A better solution to this problem is to put necessary funds and staffing into programs that can help people quit smoking. State and local governments could partner with private industries or businesses in order to discourage smoking. Instead of firing them for such an offense, we should attempt to rehabilitate such employees so they are not financially ruined, sending them into a dangerous downward spiral.

These legislation ideas, set forward by TSET, are full of good plans that will hopefully lower the smoking rate across the state of Oklahoma. But their decreased protections on employment take too sharp a risk with the lives of poorer individuals. This part of the plan should be removed, and they should come up with better alternatives that will improve the lives of those in need rather than cause problems for these individuals

Post Author: Nathan Hinkle