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It was the mid-’90s and the tide was starting to turn. The $246 billion tobacco legal settlement was still a few years away, but popular opinion regarding smoking had reached the tipping point.
Cherokee registered nurse Robyn Sunday-Allen was the director of nursing at the Oklahoma City Indian Clinic at the time the changes came around.
“We knew it would eventually come down the pike, and we would have to do it,” says Sunday-Allen, now the clinic’s CEO. “We’ve always tried to be cutting-edge, particularly in Indian Country, and that’s what we did. We took it by the horns.”
The Oklahoma City Indian Clinic went smoke-free in 1996 and became the first in Indian Country, which encompasses federal tribal facilities across the country.
Twenty years later, metro businesses are now smoke-free.
Looking back, it’s hard to see why anyone would think removing tobacco from a health-care facility was a bad idea.
“There was a lot of resistance just because a lot of health care workers are smokers,” Sunday-Allen says. “We actually had some board members who were smokers. It was huge to get rid of.”
Outside smoking bins were removed and smoke-free signs went up. On-site security guards were told they needed to keep watch for smokers, as well.
“Over time, it just became the norm,” Sunday-Allen says.
A year after her clinic quit cold turkey, in 1997, the Oklahoma Turning Point Council was formed to help transform public health in key areas, including smoking.
The group seeks input from communities to help identify priorities and implement local solutions.
“They do so much, as far as education.
Really, their name captures it all. What they’re trying to do is change the way we think and change our lifestyle,” Sunday-Allen says.
In 2003, the Oklahoma Academy for State Goals, Oklahoma Turning Point Council, The State Chamber and the state Department of Health started the Certified Healthy Business program. It recognizes Oklahoma businesses that are working to improve the state’s health by providing health and wellness opportunities for their employees.
Sunday-Allen’s clinic became one of the first certified businesses.
Adapting to change While it may have seemed like a no-brainer for a health care facility to snuff the habit, other industries haven’t been quite so ready.
Locally, Kimray, a leading manufacturer of controls and equipment for the oil and gas industry is just in its third year as a tobacco-free campus.
Working in accounting at the time, Shad Glass, the company’s human resources director, had a unique perspective on the change when it was announced. Not a smoker himself, Glass crunched the numbers for the 600-employee corporation and knew statistics weren’t on the company’s side, especially considering Kimray operates a self-funded health plan.
“Really, they didn’t have the push-back they had anticipated and prepared for. The bottom line is people know at this point … there is no question whether smoking is safe. I don’t think it’s too surprising that you’re seeing more and more organizations adopt smoke-free environments,” she says. “I don’t think — as a state — we are known for our good health habits, but we’re striving to establish a healthy working environment here at Kimray.”
• In a 2001 report, the American Cancer Society estimated Oklahoma would save more than $42 million over five years if it enacted comprehensive smoke-free laws.
• Oklahoma is one of only 15 states that currently has no law prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, restaurants or bars.
• The organization estimated making all Oklahoma workplaces, restaurants and bars 100% smoke-free would prevent about 13,300 youth from becoming smokers, and within five years, save an estimated $37.31 million in lung cancer, heart attack and stroke costs alone.
Photo by Shannon Cornman