Thursday, September 28, 2017

Drunk on cash? TSET promotes nightclubs, bars, drag shows

OCPA’s Center for Investigative Journalism revealed some shocking news this week about the spending habits of Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET). TSET is a state agency created to fund programs that help people quit smoking and help pay for the costs of smoking-related health care.

TSET was formed as a result of the state's lawsuit against tobacco companies in the 1990s, and currently sits on an endowment worth over $1 billion. It brings in and spends about $50 million every year on tobacco cessation campaigns or health issues related to tobacco use. Or rather, that's what TSET is supposed to use the money for.

These days, you often find TSET promoting drinking water instead of surgery drinks, exercising, eating fruits and vegetables... which, while good things to encourage, are not what TSET was set up to spend money on. Oh, and TSET apparently now pushes nightclubs, bars, and drag shows for teenagers -- at non-smoking locales, of course.

Because alcohol is so much better than tobacco for Oklahomans' health and safety.

From the OCPA-CIJ article (they warn that the many links in their article showing what TSET is pushing "will lead to content that some will consider offensive"):
Smoking and second-hand smoke are health risks. So are many other behaviors. But one Oklahoma state agency is so focused on opposition to smoking that it promotes bars and night clubs as long as the venues promise to be smoke free.

One promoted Oklahoma City night club specifically advertises to teenagers “15 and up” and hosts regular “drag shows.” Other boosted bars and clubs feature similarly racy fare, putting Oklahoma in the odd place of promoting alcohol and risky behaviors just because they are not accompanied by smoking.


One TSET project that is about smoking is Free The Night, which offers "promotional opportunities to smokefree bars and clubs.” TSET created the program in 2013 and spent $653,150 on it in fiscal years 2015 and 2016.

On its website and various social media pages, Free The Night promotes 35 “partners” that are “smokefree bars and clubs.” Many are traditional bars, sports bars, or dance clubs, but some of these TSET-promoted businesses offer racier fare.

One Tulsa club specializes in scantily-clad women performing burlesque shows, another recently featured male strippers, and a third is advertising “torture acts” and a “spanking booth” as part of an upcoming event. A fourth Tulsa venue specializes in programs featuring men dressed as women and hosts watch parties for “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.”

Perhaps most startling is the Oklahoma City club that TSET’s Free The Night website calls “a safe, supervised, and smokefree place to hang out” and “an exciting, different place for youth to spend their weekends.” The Free The Night site links to the club’s Facebook page, which shows that most of the programs involve men dressed, but often barely dressed, as women. With TSET’s help, the club targets teenagers, inviting people as young as 15 to attend programs like “drag 101” and making show times earlier “so our younger crowd can actually stay and see the show.” There is no upper age limit at the club.

According to a presentation last year by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, “excessive alcohol use cost $3.08 billion [in Oklahoma] in 2010 as a result of lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime.” Part of the Department’s mission is to provide services to the 251,000 Oklahomans who are dependent on or otherwise abusing alcohol. But while one state agency tries to combat alcohol abuse, another—TSET—actually spends state money to promote bars and nightclubs.

Read the full article, along with the aforementioned and warned links, here

From another OCPA article on the shocking program:
Beyond the hypocrisy of spending state dollars to promote shots, cocktails, and vodka infusions, consider what else those funds could buy. The state share of nursing home costs is $51.45 per day. That means TSET’s Free The Night spending could have covered the state’s share of 12,694 days of nursing home care.

TSET appears to be yet another example of a runaway government agency in need of oversight.


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