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Tobacco lobbyists step up work in Oklahoma Legislature

Publication Date: 2011-03-09
  • Author:JOHN ESTUS
  • Publication:Oklahoman

Legislation that would let cities regulate smoking in public has prompted the tobacco industry to hire more lobbyists in Oklahoma in its effort to defeat the legislation.

Big tobacco companies have hired a slew of influential Oklahoma lobbyists this year to help the industry defeat legislation that would let cities regulate smoking.

There are at least 13 lobbyists for tobacco companies at the Capitol this year, up from nine at this time last year, according to the Ethics Commission.

In recent weeks, the lobbyists have ramped up efforts to secure votes against House Bill 2135, which would give cities the power to regulate smoking in public.

Dozens of health groups and business associations are lobbying in support of the bill, resulting in a lobbying frenzy leading up to today's expected vote on the bill in the full House.

Anti-smoking groups and health advocates and have long criticized the tobacco lobby for disregarding public health concerns in favor of profits by lobbying against potential restrictions on tobacco use.

"We need to put the health of our citizens before the interests of the tobacco industry," said Connie Befort, chairman of the Smoke Free Oklahoma Coalition, which supports the bill.

Legislators reported aggressive lobbying in recent days by groups on both sides of the issue.

"Whenever there is an aggressive piece of legislation in an area dealing with tobacco, you always see an increase in lobbyists at the Capitol in that arena," said Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs.

The main result of HB 2135 if it becomes law would be potential citywide smoking bans in bars and nightclubs, where smoking is allowed now.

Cities cannot pass smoking laws stricter than the state's because of tobacco regulation pre-emption laws....

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