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Oklahoma's Trust for Health Continues to Be a Good Investment for Improving the Health of Oklahomans

OKLAHOMA CITY (April 28, 2015) - Oklahoma continues to benefit from the wise decision voters made in 2000 when they approved a constitutional amendment to create the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

The endowment trust topped $1 billion after tobacco manufacturers made their annual Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) payments to the state this week. Of the $76.9 million received by the state, the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund received $57.6 million, or 75 percent of the total annual payment. The remaining funds are allocated to the Office of the Attorney General and the State Legislature for appropriation.

Oklahoma was the first state to create a constitutionally protected trust fund to invest the MSA payments, and dedicate the earnings for grants and programs to improve health. Oklahoma is considered a model for the nation on safeguarding the MSA funds for health. In FY 2015 the fund generated earnings of over $53 million.

Funds deposited into the endowment trust have been immediately invested. Only the earnings will be allocated by the appointed, bipartisan TSET Board of Directors. The board has strategically focused on grants and programs that prevent and reduce tobacco use and obesity, which lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease, Oklahoma’s leading causes of death. The Board has also focused on funding research in cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, which is key to saving lives, saving money, and improving health for all Oklahomans.

“The TSET Board of Directors takes its duty as stewards of the earnings from the endowment trust very seriously,” said Jim Gebhart, chairman of the TSET Board of Directors. “As an appointed board, we are honored to be entrusted to make sound, evidence-based decisions about how the earnings from this fund can be best spent to help Oklahomans live longer, healthier lives.”

Since TSET began making grants in 2002, youth smoking has been cut in half, adult smoking has reached historic lows and youth obesity has leveled off.

Payments from the MSA will continue as long as cigarettes are sold nationally. Court documents obtained during state lawsuits against the industry show that tobacco companies specifically marketed their product to youth under 18, in hopes of getting “replacement smokers.”

In more recent years, a federal judge found the tobacco companies guilty of racketeering under the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act for defrauding the public, including lying about the health damage caused by smoking; the addictive nature of nicotine; their marketing and promotion of "low tar" and "light" cigarettes as healthier when there are no clear health benefits; designing tobacco products to be as addictive as possible; and engaging in a massive effort to hide the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Cigarettes kill 1-in-3 users and kill 7,500 Oklahomans a year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Without TSET, we would be a less healthy state and a less prosperous state,” said Drew Edmondson, former Oklahoma attorney general who filed a lawsuit against the tobacco industry on Oklahoma’s behalf, assisted a team of attorneys general who negotiated the terms of the national Master Settlement Agreement, and advocated for the creation of a voter-approved constitutional endowment trust. “Today there are children who are able to enjoy their parents and grandparents that would not have been able to if it were not for TSET and the work it supports.”

The strength of Oklahoma’s endowment trust was that it was a bipartisan effort by business leaders, healthcare professionals and Oklahomans committed to the vision of a healthier state.

“This came about because folks across the political spectrum, throughout the business community and healthcare advocacy community, realized once and for all that the health needs and issues posed by the tobacco industry was a problem that transcended political differences,” said Robert Butkin, former state treasurer who worked with other state leaders in creating TSET.

This year Oklahoma celebrates the 15th anniversary of the vote that created the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust.

“This is an example of something that has had a wonderful result,” said Frank Keating, who was the governor of Oklahoma when voters approved the creation of the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. “Like anything you do in public policy, you hope it works out. Sometimes you think, ‘Gosh we missed that,’ but in this case, we didn’t. Oklahoma got it right.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                
Julie Bisbee, julieb@tset.ok.gov
Direct: 405-521-4992
Cell: 405-301-3693

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The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations working towards shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, by cultivating innovative and life-changing research, and by working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public's health.