The state’s veterans centers are expected to be smoke-free by Jan. 1, 2018, according to an agreement announced last week. Fewer than 250 of the more than 1,400 veterans in the centers are smokers. Gov. Mary Fallin had called for making the centers smoke-free, something some had balked at pointing out that some veterans were given cigarettes as rations.
Fallin in April signed Senate Bill 501, which bans smoking effective Nov. 1 on property owned and operated by the state. The measure put into law an executive order she had signed Feb. 6, 2012, that banned smoking on state property. The agreement will grandfather in the veterans at the centers who smoke. Indoor smoking will end Jan. 1, 2015. After that time, smoking cigarettes will be allowed in designated outside areas.
The Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs is expected to offer counseling and smoking-cessation programs. “The governor supports moving to a smoke-free environment because she knows it will save lives and improve the health of both residents and employees at veterans centers,” said Alex Weintz, a spokesman for Fallin.
“At the same time, she recognizes the unique position that veterans at these facilities are in. She also has tremendous respect for their service,” he said. “The governor believes that giving these facilities until 2018 to go smoke-free is a compromise that honors both her commitment to health and to Oklahoma veterans.”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Rita Aragon said the issue got blown out of proportion. “Former administrators at the veterans homes made it a bigger issue and more controversial than it should have been,” she said. Sen. Frank Simpson, chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, called the agreement a compromise.
“My choice was to allow those to smoke as long as they wanted,” said Simpson, R-Ardmore. “The governor would not agree to that.” He said some veterans consider the centers their residence. “I agree with them,” Simpson said. “I would not go into someone’s living room and tell them not to smoke.”
He said the solution is not a perfect one, but solutions are rarely perfect. Blanche Robertson lives in Claremore and visits her husband every day in the Claremore Veterans Center. Her husband no longer smokes, she said. “My thoughts on it are these old guys smoked all their lives,” Robertson said. “They gave them cigarettes in World War II. Why not let them smoke at their age?”
David Smith, 68, lives in the Norman Veterans Center. He served during the Vietnam War and quit smoking. He said the issue has been controversial among some residents.”They have special rooms here in the Norman facility for smokers,” Smith said. “So that is why it never bothers me.”