In 2000, Oklahomans voted to support an ambitious initiative to improve the health of the state’s residents, lessen the toll of tobacco use and decrease preventable death. This past year marked the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET), an endowment fueled by payments from a historic lawsuit settlement with Big Tobacco.
Oklahoma was the first state in the nation to create an endowment that would safeguard a majority of Master Settlement Agreement payments for health. Using the endowment earnings, TSET funds grants and programs that invest in prevention and reduce the health behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death in Oklahoma.
For Oklahomans, tobacco use and obesity lead to four common deadly health outcomes: heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and cancer. Improved health behaviors—like increased physical activity, nutritious food and a tobacco-free lifestyle—along with increased access to medical care are key to improving the health outcomes in Oklahoma.
“Prevention is where we can do the most good,” said Julie Bisbee, executive director of TSET. “Preventing chronic disease saves lives, improves wellbeing and is less costly than medical treatment. TSET’s investments made over the past two decades are paying off by helping save thousands of lives."
Helping Smokers Quit
Despite challenges posed by a pandemic, TSET programs and grants continue to carry out TSET’s goal of reducing tobacco use through cost-effective tobacco use prevention and cessation programs. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline, a program of TSET, is one of the top quitlines in the country. The Oklahoma Tobacco Helpline (1-800-QUIT NOW) continues to evolve in offering online and text services to provide free services to Oklahomans who want help quitting tobacco use. In 2020, the Helpline provided phone, web, text message and email support, and nicotine replacement therapy to 28,547 tobacco users from all 77 counties in Oklahoma.
Keeping Cancer Treatment Close to Home
Since 2008, TSET has been a partner in bringing cutting-edge cancer research and treatments to Oklahomans. TSET funds Phase 1 clinical trials at Stephenson Cancer Center, which allows Oklahomans to receive the newest cancer treatments without traveling out of state. Clinical trials were crucial to Stephenson receiving National Cancer Institute designation, making it part of the NCI’s 71-member program. The Oklahoma TSET Phase I Program is currently ranked sixth in the nation in the number of annual enrollments to early-phase clinical trials. Patients from across the state can receive cancer treatment from Stephenson Cancer Center through satellite facilities including Tulsa and Bartlesville.
Placing Doctors in Underserved Communities
TSET’s partnerships with medical and health organizations help bring new and innovative solutions to the health challenges facing Oklahomans. Working with the Physician Manpower Training Commission, TSET helps fund the Physician Loan Repayment Program, which places doctors in underserved communities throughout Oklahoma. Currently, 38 physicians serve in the program that supports primary care access and preventative screenings.
Addressing Food Insecurity
To increase access to nutritious food, TSET’S Board of Directors approved funding for new grants in May. Hunger Free Oklahoma, headquartered in Tulsa, received the largest allocation to expand its Double Up Oklahoma program in up to 11 grocery stores in nine counties in rural Oklahoma. Hunger Free’s program provides vouchers to Oklahomans using the Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Program (SNAP) and helps SNAP participants buy more fruits and vegetables. For every dollar spent on fruits and vegetables, the participants earn vouchers that can be used to buy more produce. The Double Up produce voucher system is currently in use at more than 12 farmers markets across the state.
“Food insecurity, already a problem in Oklahoma, has worsened since the coronavirus pandemic began. One in seven people and one in five children struggle with hunger in Oklahoma, according to Feeding America,” Bisbee said. “Increasing access to nutritious foods supports TSET’s efforts to increase access to healthy options.”
TSET celebrates the strides made by Oklahomans working to make our state healthier, yet there is still work to be done. As the state’s largest funder of behavioral health prevention, TSET will continue to invest in the areas of greatest need to address Oklahoma’s lead causes of preventable death. To learn more, visit TSET.OK.GOV.