A state watchdog is questioning how the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) spends millions of dollars every year.
The trust spends more than $50 million each year from the interest accrued on proceeds from a late 90s lawsuit against big tobacco.
“We specifically looked at the way the agency was spending money and couldn't see correlation to outcomes in terms of people stopping using the product,” LOFT Executive Director Mike Jackson said.
According to his team’s report, Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation for tobacco sensation spending, but still has one of the worst smoking rates. Oklahoma is the 40th worst for adult smoking and 44th worst for youth smoking, according to the report.
“Of course, Oklahoma started in a much higher rate of tobacco used in other states and we’ve actually seen our tobacco use rates improve compared to other states,” TSET’s Thomas Larson said.
The LOFT report also took aim at adverting spending by the trust.
“TSET is out spent by the tobacco industry 10 to 1,” Jackson said. “So, we simply question whether or not that was the most effective use of dollars.”
“First, people need to know about it,” Larson said. “So, we put a lot of effort into letting people know that the services are available and then Oklahoma has a very robust array of services that we offer to people who are trying to break their addiction to nicotine.”
According to the LOFT report, TSET spends five times the national average on its Tobacco Helpline. Jackson said the state spends $11.52 per caller, compared to just 77 cents per caller in Texas.
Larson said the increased cost allows TSET to provide Oklahomans among the most robust helpline services in the nation.
“Every Oklahoman gets at least two weeks of tobacco therapy. So, that’s your patches, gum or lozenges,” he said.
Larson said if lawmakers wanted help reducing smoking rates, they could pass stricter anti-smoking laws.
“A lot of states have comprehensive clean indoor air laws that prohibit smoking anywhere indoors in any sort of business. Oklahoma's law has a lot of loopholes,” he said.
Another question raised during Monday’s report presentation to lawmakers was how much legislators can do to direct how TSET funds are used. The trust’s seven-member board is written into the state constitution. Jackson said LOFT brought in outside counsel to look into the issue.
“The legislature does have the ability to basically direct the purpose, but not the direct spending,” Jackson said.