Senate supports Oke’s tobacco measure

State Sen. Bob Oke (R-Port Orchard) received overwhelming support this week for a measure he believes will help keep that “first cigarette” out of the hands of youth — and he hopes the fifth time is a charm.

Senate Bill 5048 makes it illegal for tobacco companies to give away cigarettes and chewing tobacco. A new technique called “opportunity sampling” allows these giveaways to occur at convenience stores and various other public locations.

In addition, tobacco sampling continues to occur at rodeos, fairs, parades, concerts, and on college campuses.

Tobacco companies need only notify the Liquor Control Board (LCB) about the area they are going to be in and on what day. No time is given and they may be in several places at once.

This makes it impossible for the LCB to police the sampling to make sure cigarettes are not given to minors. All reporting of sampling events is based on “good faith” by the tobacco companies.

During floor debate, Sen. Craig Pridemore (D-Vancouver) told his colleagues that when he was 20 years old, someone gave him a free cigarette and 15 minutes later he was buying a pack.

Since then, he said, the longest he has been able to quit over the 25 years is 60 days.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said children are being targeted as new customers and said Oke should be applauded for his effort to help prevent youth smoking.

She also expressed concerns about the tobacco companies’ efforts to attract college students to the habit.

“We know these products are getting into the hands of our youth,” Oke said. They are the next generation of customers that Big Tobacco is after. More than 80 percent of smokers start before age 17.”

Rep. Dawn Morrell (D-Puyallup), who is a nurse, has sponsored the same measure in the House, House Bill 2570. The bill was given a “do pass” recommendation by the House Health Care Committee and is co-sponsored by 26th District Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) and Pat Lantz (D-Gig Harbor).

Tobacco companies that signed the tobacco settlement with the state may not engage in opportunity sampling. However, four companies are not part of that agreement and are free to continue sampling as a marketing technique.

Oke, who has tried to pass this legislation five times before also announced to his colleagues Monday that his blood cancer is back.

Oke underwent a stem cell transplant last summer to treat his multiple myeloma, a rare, incurable cancer that targets plasma cells and weakens the bones, using his own stem cells and had been feeling better.

He had missed part of the 2005 session and sometimes used a wheelchair or cane. After getting a viral infection last month, he had a blood test and was told that his myeloma was probably back.

He was put on a powerful new medication and got the confirmation Monday that his cancer had returned.

“I’m feeling well,” Oke told his colleagues. “We’re on Plan B.”

He said his brother will donate healthy stem cells for another transplant this summer if doctors decide on that course of treatment.

“A lot of prayer is needed, and I appreciate your support,” he told the Senate. “You’ve always been there for me. I feel good and feel like we’ll make it through this session and we’ll do some good things.”

The Senate gave him a standing ovation.

Oke, 65, a 26-year Navy veteran, is being treated at the Veterans’ Administration Hospital in Seattle.

He is finishing his fourth four-year term in the Senate.

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