Budget & Tax , Culture & the Family

Staff Reports | September 26, 2017

'Dragalicious' for kids, 'Ru Paul’s Drag Race,' get Oklahoma government support

Staff Reports

Staff Reports

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.

Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) receives funds from the settlement of the state’s lawsuit against tobacco companies in the 1990s. Those funds are state property, they belong to the people of Oklahoma. 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 has built up an endowment now worth over $1 billion. Every year it receives about $50 million and also spends about that much. TSET came under fire last year for trying to create a new management position with a $250,000 annual salary, and many of its programs today are unrelated to 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. [Warning: The links below will lead to content that some will consider offensive.]

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.

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