Go smoke-free, Northern Ky.

Health benefits are worth it

November 30, 2010 

Northern Kentucky residents should not have to pay for their region's politics with their lungs, hearts and health.

The region lags behind Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati and the rest of Ohio in clearing the air of tobacco smoke.

Even Bardstown and Glasgow, small towns that once lived in synch with the rhythms of growing and harvesting tobacco, have done more than Covington, Florence, Newport, Highland Heights and Fort Thomas to protect their people from the serious harms caused by passive smoking.

That could change soon. Fiscal courts in Kenton and Campbell counties are poised to enact smoke-free ordinances next month. But the lame-duck county legislators are under pressure to back down.

The original idea was that all three northernmost counties would enact the same ordinance. But Boone County bailed last summer when it became obvious there was not enough support on the fiscal court. City councils in Erlanger, Newport and Wilder are on record opposing the ordinances.

Some members of the Northern Kentucky Tea Party are campaigning against smoke-free laws. While the Tea Party's emergence may energize opponents, they're trotting out the same tired old arguments that have been discredited time and again.

Government regulation of smoking is no more intrusive or improper than regulating restaurant sanitation or the number of fire exits required in a public building, as the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled 6-1 in April 2004.

A conservative justice from Northern Kentucky wrote that opinion. Donald Wintersheimer, who was Covington city attorney before serving 24 years on the Supreme Court, wrote that Lexington's smoking ban, the state's first, was "not an improper infringement upon property rights."

Those worried about the economic effects need only look to Lexington and Louisville to relieve their fears. Going smoke-free will keep more Kentuckians on this side of the Ohio River and attract Buckeyes for a meal or night out.

Many opponents of smoke-free laws believe they are fighting for freedom when, in fact, they're playing stooges for the tobacco industry. A political movement such as the Tea Party that wants to protect its integrity should recoil from doing Big Tobacco's dirty work. The tobacco industry is spending billions to defeat developing nations' efforts to protect their people from being lured into tobacco addiction. In this country, tobacco companies have funded the conservative think tanks that produce the talking points against smoking bans.

Nonetheless, 79 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places covered by some form of smoke-free law. Almost half of Americans, 47.5 percent, live in places that have 100 percent smoke-free laws for workplaces, restaurants and bars. In that most most comprehensive category are Ashland, Bardstown, Campbellsville, Danville, Elizabethtown, Georgetown, Lexington, London, Louisville, Morehead, Prestonsburg and Clark, Hardin and Madison counties.

In those places, everyone is free to partake of community life and participate in the economy without fear that someone else's smoke will make them sick.

C'mon, Northern Kentucky, try it, you'll like it.

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