Sponsors of statewide smoking ban predict it will finally pass the House, maybe Senate
By Al Cross, Kentucky Health News

Posted on January 1, 0001 12:00 AM

Sponsors of a bill to ban smoking in most public places in Kentucky said Wednesday that it will pass the House and has a chance in the Senate.

"I think we're going to do it this year," Republican Rep. Julie Raque Adams of Louisville said at a Capitol rotunda press conference, noting steadily increasing support in polls. A survey last fall showed two in three Kentucky adults favor a smoking ban.

The bill has cleared the Health and Welfare Committee twice, and been considered by the Judiciary Committee, which offered suggestions the sponsors said were helpful, but has never reached the House floor because it lacked the votes to pass.

This time, "We will pass it on the chamber floor," said Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom of Lexington, lead sponsor of past bills. "The data is so profound" about the effects of secondhand smoke, she said, and at least half of smokers "would love to quit" but can't because they work in places that allow smoking.

For the first time, there is a companion bill in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, chair of that chamber's Health and Welfare Committee. "Every person in Kentucky has the right to breathe clean, smoke-free air."

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has said he doesn't like smoking bans because they don't like personal choice. Denton said later in the day that she did not think Stivers would stand in the way of the bill, but would probably require it to get a majority of the Republican caucus to be brought to the floor. Stivers couldn't be reached for immediate comment.

About two-thirds of Kentuckians are exposed to secondhand smoke, said Rep. David Watkins, D-Henderson, a physician who retired Dec. 31. Watkins said he has seen the effects of secondhand smoke in his medical practice.

Denton said she is more susceptible to respiratory infections because she was exposed as a child to secondhand smoke from her grandfather, and her daughter has asthma, which can be triggered or worsened by tobacco smoke.

"We are one of the most unhealthy states in the nation," Denton said, "and cigarette smoking is one of the biggest contributors to that." She, Westrom and others said that is costing the state money and jobs.

Ashli Watts, public-affairs manager for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, noted that the federal Centers for Disease Control has estimated that smoking-related health expenses in Kentucky total $1.5 billion a year, with $487 million of that in the federal-state Medicaid program. "Smoking is not only killing us, it's bankrupting us, both in terms of costs to business and medical costs to taxpayers," she said.

Noting that opponents of a ban say it infringes on the property rights of business owners, Watts said the chamber would never advocate diminishing such rights, and noted that the state Supreme Court has said local smoking bans don't violate property rights and are a public-health issue.

Westrom said 24 Kentucky cities or counties have comprehensive smoking bans that include restaurants and bars, but several others have weaker bans. "It's very confusing, and . . . we need to have a level playing field here when it comes to business."

Gov. Steve Beshear said in his State of the Commonwealth speech Tuesday night that the legislature should pass a smoking ban. Beshear said he would soon offer a plan to improve the state's health, including reducing the share of Kentuckians who smoke to 10 percent from 28 percent, the highest of any state.

While the sponsors of the smoking-ban bill noted that it has bipartisan support, Westrom said it would not move until after the Jan. 28 filing deadline for this year's legislative elections, following the traditional strategy of allowing legislators to gauge their opposition before voting on controversial bills.

Also last Wednesday, the Kentucky New Era of Hopkinsville endorsed a ban, saying "Most Kentuckians favor a smoking ban in public places. The medical science is clear. Secondhand smoke makes people sick, and that includes children who have no say in their exposure. There are no more excuses." 

Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

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