Lawmakers, health groups plan blitz to reduce tobacco use

From CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

State Rep. Anastasia Pittman and state Senator Connie Johnson, both Oklahoma City Democrats, took part in a meeting at the Capitol recently to lay out plans to raise awareness of tobacco use cessation and prevention resources in minority communities.

“This meeting was our third,” Pittman, D-Oklahoma City, said. “It stemmed from a community meeting held at Langston University on World No Tobacco Day. We have set up a steering committee of local leaders to help us strategically curtail the health disparities surrounding tobacco.”

Pittman gave those present a deadline of this week to provide lists of churches, civic groups and state agencies that need to be brought together to a summer event in which the various groups involved would present the many resources that are available to curtail tobacco use at the individual and community level.

“Most people who smoke try to quit every single year,” state health official Sally Carter said during the meeting.

Carter noted that a free helpline is available to people who want to quit smoking  as well as free nicotine patches and gum to help smokers quit. While many people know smoking is bad, what they need is to know how to quit and what resources are available, she said. Carter noted that quitting “cold turkey” worked in about 5 percent of cases and that using the free resources offered by the state health department can double a person’s chances of quitting.

The Langston University Meeting was spearheaded by Chris Rogers, coordinator for the African-American Tobacco Education Network (AATEN). Rogers presented facts concerning the targeting of African-Americans by tobacco companies and explained why it is important of community partnerships and community involvement in helping reduce tobacco use in the African-American community.

“The goal of today’s meeting for us is to increase the partnerships in Oklahoma City and make our resources available to the groups that our working for tobacco use cessation and prevention in our area,” Rogers said.

Rogers noted that Oklahoma is the only state that required 100 percent of the funds from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement to be used in tobacco use cessation and prevention education. In other states, various state agencies have tapped into the tobacco settlement funds, using them to address concerns ranging from road repair to law enforcement needs. AAETN is funded through Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Fund.

Courtney Jackson, a representative from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, noted that she hoped to raise awareness of tobacco and its links to not only lung cancer but to other cancers that have a higher prevalence in the African-American community.

“African-Americans don’t necessarily develop cancer an easier than do other races, but they do die of cancer at a higher rate,” Jackson said.

Doug Matheny, who heads the Oklahoma Department of Health Tobacco Use Prevention Service, said he was pleased to have been invited to the meeting and looks forward to making his department’s resources available for the awareness event. He said at the group’s last meeting a large group of pastors had attended and that the word was getting out.

Tobacco marketing to African-Americans is done by store advertising in communities, direct mail and a number of other ways that are often below the radar of community leaders, Matheny said. He noted that the state’s plan is to reduce tobacco use in Oklahoma to the national average by 2012.

“In order to do that, it’s going to require communities to take action,” Matheny said.