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Battles rage over tobacco measures in Okla.

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Battles over the regulation of tobacco products have played out throughout this year's legislative session, but the real fight could come after lawmakers adjourn.

Gov. Mary Fallin, who announced earlier this session that she wants to push for a statewide vote on an anti-smoking initiative in 2014, plans to begin working in earnest on the details once the session ends, a spokesman said Monday.

"It's definitely still on our radar, and it's still a priority for her," Fallin spokesman Alex Weintz said. "I think we're going to have some announcements after session."

Fallin lost a battle earlier this session over a bill she supported that would have allowed cities and towns to enact stricter smoking bans than currently exist in state law. The measure was shot down in a Senate committee, prompting Fallin the following day to announce her plans for a statewide vote in 2014, the same year she is up for re-election.

Despite the governor's announcement in February, few details have emerged on exactly what the measure will look like. Fallin has said the proposal could range from giving cities more authority to put bans in place to a statewide ban on smoking in public places.

Neither of those ideas sits well with Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Edmond, who helped kill the bill to give cities more power to enact smoking bans. Johnson, R-Edmond, argued that business owners should be able to decide for themselves whether to allow smoking inside their establishments.

"We told them, as a state, years ago that if they would build a separate room that is separately ventilated, then they could have smoking in that area," Johnson said. "Now I don't think we as a state should be able to come back and say that cities will be able to override that and have different laws throughout the state."

Meanwhile, a measure already approved by the Legislature and sent to Fallin would designate all state-owned buildings and property as nonsmoking. Fallin, who already put a similar ban in place through an executive order, is expected to sign the bill, which would further allow county or municipal governments to designate buildings and properties as nonsmoking.

Another tobacco-related measure sponsored by Johnson, one of the top recipients of tobacco-lobbyist money in the Oklahoma Legislature, targets electronic cigarettes or "vapor products" that use a heating element to convert nicotine into an inhalable water vapor.

The bill is endorsed by two of the nation's largest tobacco companies, but fiercely opposed by the self-described "vapor community" because it would define vapor products as "tobacco products" under state law. Manufacturers who currently market and sell vapor products and remit sales taxes would instead be required to pay excise taxes and acquire separate licenses to sell tobacco products.


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy