Over the past several months, Sen. Frank Simpson and State Reps. Pat Ownbey and Tommy Hardin have been working diligently with the governor’s staff, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA), and the War Veterans Commission to develop a plan to accommodate those veterans at the state’s seven centers who choose to smoke.
The issue arose after Gov. Fallin banned smoking on all state property, including the state’s veterans centers, on Feb. 6, 2012 with executive order 2012-01.
On April 13, 2012, the governor requested guidelines from the War Veterans Commission, the oversight commission for the ODVA, for implementation of her executive order. No agreement was reached.
In May of this year, Senate Bill 501, which placed the Governor’s Executive order into statute, was passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. The purpose of placing that executive order in statute was to give counties and cities the authority to set smoking standards on property they own or operate.
Since no agreement was reached between the governor and the War Veterans Commission in 2012, no provisions for the veterans centers were provided in SB 501.
The new law will take effect on November 1, 2013 and, technically, smoking would be banned at the centers on that date. However, after several meetings and discussions, an agreement has been reached. The agreement has a phased approach and the ODVA will develop rules for its implementation.
“I think the parties involved have reached a workable compromise that provides for our veterans while also creating a healthy atmosphere for all residents and employees at our centers,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “We have worked closely with all those involved to do what we feel is in the best interest of our veterans. The discussions have been open and frank, and I am grateful to everyone for their active participation.”
The agreement will grandfather in those veterans at the centers who currently smoke and indoor smoking will end on Jan.1, 2015. After Jan. 1, 2015, smoking will be allowed only in designated areas outside the building. ODVA will offer counseling and smoking cessation programs. Then all the veterans centers will be smoke free by January 1, 2018.
“Our biggest concern was that our veterans at centers across Oklahoma be treated fairly on this issue. This is home for these residents,” said Ownbey, R-Ardmore. “Everyone has worked together over the last several months to come to an agreement that will be fair while not changing the rules in midstream. Today I am proud that we were able to come to such an agreement.”
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Of the more than 1400 residents at the centers, less than 250 are smokers.
“There is no perfect way to end tobacco use on state property, especially for those who years ago were given cigarettes in their C-rations,” said Hardin, R-Madill. “This I believe is a workable compromise, since there are less than 18 percent of our veterans currently smoking.”