By Michelle Stephens
Chair, TSET Board of Directors
It’s common knowledge that Oklahoma’s health outcomes rate poorly compared to other states. Those poor health outcomes didn’t happen overnight and are often the result of habits and behaviors passed from generation to generation. Prevention is a more cost-effective way to improve health than treatment, which is why TSET is leading a renewed focus on the youngest Oklahomans and empowering youth to be physically active, eat nutritiously and stay tobacco-free.
In Oklahoma, three behaviors (tobacco use, poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyles) lead to four conditions (heart disease, lung disease, cancer and diabetes) that cause 64% of the deaths in our state. Many of those deaths are premature. Simply put, changing those behaviors will save the lives.
Long-term change in health outcomes doesn’t happen without a steady eye to the future. That requires a focus on the next generation of Oklahomans. That’s why TSET launched the TSET Healthy Youth Initiative last year and continues to roll out new programs aimed at young Oklahomans.
TSET’s new media campaigns warn teens of the dangers of tobacco use and vaping, while the new text-based service My Life, My Quit offers cessation support to teens who are already addicted to nicotine. This fall, Youth Action for Health Leadership (YAHL) started recruiting students to take on a health leadership role in their communities. Meanwhile, TSET has partnered with the Oklahoma State Department of Education to help fund teacher training and certification in health education.
There’s more that could be done to improve the health of Oklahomans. Our state lacks a comprehensive smoke-free air law, exposing employees and customers to deadly secondhand smoke. Cities and towns lack the power to create their own tobacco regulations. Too many Oklahomans lack safe and convenient places for physical activity, or basic infrastructure like parks and sidewalks that can make physical activity a part of daily life. Some towns and neighborhoods lack a grocery store selling fresh fruits and vegetables.
Policy changes prompt improvements where we live, work, learn and plan and help create opportunities to improve the health of Oklahomans. These changes could save lives and save dollars.
Twenty years ago, Oklahoma voters had the foresight to use funds from a lawsuit against Big Tobacco to create the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). Today, TSET is the largest funder of public health prevention programs in the state, from the Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline to health education programs, cancer research to community-based programs that work with leaders on the local level in cities and towns across Oklahoma.
Improving the health of Oklahomans is our mission. Because of the wisdom of the voters, TSET funding will be available for decades to come, ensuring that we can make long-term investments to improve health for generations to come.