Oke hopes to pass signature bill next session

Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) has an axe to grind with tobacco companies distributing free samples to patrons of some of the state’s biggest entertainment events — and he’s not about to give up the fight.

Oke’s bill prohibiting the giving away of tobacco products at public events has passed the Senate during four different sessions, only to die in the House.

On Jan. 26, the Senate approved a bill to stop the giving away of cigarettes and chewing tobacco samples at fairs, concerts and rodeos. Again, the bill died in the House Rules Committee.

According to Oke, most people who smoke started before age 18. Washington has seen a 25-fold increase in sampling events in the last eight years and while it is illegal to give such products to minors, the events are difficult to monitor.

Oke is planning to introduce a bill in the 2006 session that will put a $1 tax on each tobacco sample given away at public events, with the revenue to be used for Liquor Control Board enforcement to ensure minors are not given samples.

“We’re going to save lives with this bill,” Oke said. “Cigarettes kill people. There is no good reason why handing out free samples of a deadly product should be allowed to go on in this state.”

During floor debate, Oke asked his colleagues to picture the Rose Bowl stadium filled with people and then multiply that times four.

“Over 400,000 people die each year from tobacco-related illnesses. That’s four times the number of people who can fill the Rose Bowl,” Oke said. “Tobacco companies have to replace those customers, and we know that 80 to 85 percent of smokers started under age 17.”

Oke, a member of Transportation Committee as well as the Natural Resources, Ocean and Recreation Committee, spent much of his energy this session working to ensure the quality of our district’s natural landscape.

He helped pass a law requiring an additional $3 from every vessel registration application. Of that amount, $1.50 will be used for aquatic invasive species prevention, $1 for freshwater aquatic algae control and 50 cents for aquatic-invasive species enforcement.

Lakes that have experienced harmful algae blooms within the past three years have priority, including Long Lake.

Oke was also successful in getting $750,000 in the 2005-2007 capital budget for the cleanup and 10-year management plan of Long Lake, designed by TetraTech.

Oke also worked to ensure inclusion of the Horseshoe Lake land transfer in the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Trust Land Transfer Program 2005-2007, approved in the Capital Budget.

This land transfer provides the Key Peninsula Park District with 351 acres of land for open space, recreation and wildlife habitat.

“Long Lake and other lakes in our state are closed to swimming and boating and present a danger to pets and wildlife that drink the water because of toxic algae blooms and noxious weeds,” Oke said. “Long Lake residents have a good plan for cleaning up their present problem, but there is a lot of work that needs to be done to prevent future problems. Boats that move from lake to lake, without being well-cleaned, spread algae and non-native species that clog and poison the waters.”

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