By Mary Fallin
In the last two years, Oklahoma has made great strides in improving our overall health. Programs like the Certified Healthy initiatives are promoting healthier workplaces, schools and communities and helping us tackle health problems like obesity, Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
This year, my budget also includes more money to support prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment initiatives to help citizens overcome the challenges of substance abuse and addiction.
While these programs are working -- we've moved from 49th in the country to 43rd in terms of health outcomes -- there still is much work to be done to improve the health of Oklahoma.
Seventy percent of illnesses in this state are preventable. If we are going to make significant progress in improving health outcomes we have to address the state's number one cause of preventable illness and death: tobacco.
Oklahoma has the fourth highest smoking rate in the country, as we pay a very high price for that dubious ranking. More than 6,000 Oklahomans die each year from smoking-related illnesses. Many of these men and women do not even smoke; 700 Oklahomans die each year from second hand smoke, which contains more than 7,000 chemicals, dozens of which can lead to cancer.
Those deaths are not only tragic, but they place an unnecessary strain on our family budgets, state budget and our economy. Each year, the use of tobacco products costs Oklahomans more than $2 billion in health care costs and lost workforce productivity. Smoking costs the average Oklahoma household $550 a year in federal and state tax dollars. And health care and health insurance costs continue to be pushed upward for smokers and non-smokers alike because of smoking-related illnesses.
By addressing smoking and secondhand smoke, we can improve our health, improve our standard of living and improve our economy. That's why I am working with community leaders, health care professionals and other concerned stakeholders to launch an initiative petition aimed at reducing secondhand smoke.
This initiative petition will give Oklahomans the chance to vote on whether or not they want to breathe smoke-free air when they are in public. We've established a Web site, www.DontSmokeOnMe.com, where Oklahomans can learn more about this plan. To get involved or to learn more about the effort to address secondhand smoke, I urge you to sign up.
The people of Oklahoma know smoking is doing enormous damage to our state, our health and our economy. Most Oklahomans know someone who has died of a smoking-related illness. Both of my parents died too early because of smoking.
It's my hope this initiative petition can help save someone else's parents, or someone else's children, from falling sick to illnesses related to smoking and secondhand smoke.
Approximately 75 percent of Oklahomans do not smoke. They deserve the chance to vote on whether or not they want clean air in public places. If given the chance, I believe the answer will be a resounding "yes."