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'They literally cannot spend' tobacco funds

Second of two parts

Oklahoma's Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust spent about $14 million last year on advertising, or nearly 29 percent of its $48 million, an annual audit shows.

Yet the American Lung Association gave Oklahoma a "D" for the level of its tobacco-prevention funding in 2017.

The latest Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids report gives Oklahoma relatively high marks for its tobacco cessation programs. Oklahoma ranked No. 7 among states in spending amounts per capita recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Total spending was $19 million, or 45 percent of the recommended level.

TSET points to a 10-percentage-point drop in smoking among high school students from 2002 to 2015 and a 7-percentage-point drop among adults from 2002 to 2016 as evidence of its effectiveness.

"Nobody can argue that TSET hasn't had some impact on smoking or cigarettes. But I think there's huge concern about where else they've spent money," said Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and frequent critic of TSET. "The reason they've expanded is because that fund has become so massive that they literally cannot spend all the money trying to prevent tobacco use, even if they wanted to."

Small praised the TSET board's decision in November to shore up mental health services for children and provide meals for seniors. The one-time funding from TSET earnings was $3.1 million.

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