Smoke-free advocates in Bourbon push for smoking ban

Smokers, bar owner say it's not needed

gkocher1@herald-leader.comNovember 21, 2011 

PARIS — As cigarettes dangled from their mouths, Rodney Harney and Chuck Newberry played a friendly game of nine ball in Bluegrass Billiards.

Over the pulsing beat of back-to-back Grand Funk Railroad hits I'm Your Captain/Closer to Home and Some Kind of Wonderful, they talked about the prospect of a smoking ban that appears likely to be proposed for Bourbon County next year.

Harney, 39, acknowledges that a ban "would help improve people's health around here. But the thing about it is, drinking and smoking go hand in hand."

Newberry, 51, said he can understand a ban in other public places, such as a grocery store or restaurant. "But 99.9 percent of the people that come into this bar smoke," Newberry said. "If you don't smoke, you don't need to come in here."

Smoke-free advocates are gearing up to push for an indoor smoking ban in Bourbon County, which ranks among the state's top producers of burley tobacco.

Armed with an air-quality study and a public-opinion survey to bolster their cause, members of the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Bourbon County plan to hold a public forum sometime in early 2012, coalition member Phyllis Robinson said.

After that forum, the coalition will ask Bourbon Fiscal Court to pass an ordinance for a countywide smoking ban, Robinson said.

"We have already started sending our fiscal court members educational pieces about secondhand smoke and the dangers," Robinson said. "And we'll definitely be proposing an ordinance."

A public-opinion survey found that 65 percent of respondents said Bourbon County should adopt a local law so that all public buildings, including restaurants and other businesses, would have a smoke-free environment.

In addition, 67 percent of the respondents agreed with the statement, "People who work in bars and restaurants should be protected from exposure to secondhand smoke, even if this means smoking is not allowed at all in bars and restaurants."

Those were the results released earlier this month from a telephone poll conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 22, 2010, by the University of Kentucky Survey Research Center.

The poll results show how far public opinion has turned in this largely agricultural county, where tobacco was crucial among crops. In the early 1900s, Paris was home to two cigar manufacturers and six tobacco redrying factories, according to a local newspaper at the time. Several tobacco auction warehouses were in Paris, too.

Paris also was home to Virgil Chapman, who was Kentucky's leading spokesman for tobacco interests while a congressman in the late 1920s, '30s and '40s, and a U.S. senator from 1949 to 1951. Chapman helped organize tobacco growers in Kentucky and other states into cooperative marketing associations.

In 1990, Bourbon ranked first among Kentucky counties in production of burley tobacco, an ingredient in cigarettes. In 2009, the latest year for which figures are available, Bourbon ranked fourth in burley production, according to the Kentucky field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Today, many restaurants, government offices and businesses in Paris and Bourbon County already are smoke-free, Robinson said. The Bourbon County and Paris Independent school districts both have campus-wide smoke-free policies, she said.

But only community-wide laws ensure that workers and customers are free from exposure to secondhand smoke in all public places, advocates say.

On the same day that the results of the public-opinion survey were released, the coalition released the findings of the first indoor-air-quality study in Bourbon County.

Indoor air pollution in a sampling of Bourbon County's public places was 13.9 times higher than those in Lexington, where a smoke-free ordinance has been in effect since 2004, according to a study conducted by the UK College of Nursing.

The Bourbon measurement was also 12.6 times higher than in nearby Georgetown, another community where a smoke-free ordinance is in effect.

The indoor-air-quality study was conducted from May 21 to July 1, 2010, and it measured fine particulates that come out of the burning ends of cigarettes. The study measured air quality in eight public venues, including restaurants and bars, of various sizes in Bourbon County.

The venues are not identified in the study, which is in keeping with the protocol for such studies. Some were individually owned, and some were part of local or national chains.

Researchers measured the air quality with small, purse-size monitors. The monitors analyzed the level of fine particulates in the air every minute for an average of 64 minutes.

The monitors found that the average amount of particulates — the pollution smoking causes — was 251 micrograms per cubic meter. The outdoor air standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. There is no national standard for indoor air quality.

No organized opposition to a smoking ban has surfaced yet in Bourbon County, Robinson said.

But Tiffany Bezeau, owner of Bluegrass Billiards, said a ban would "take money out of my business. When people have to leave their drinks and go outside to smoke, it's definitely not going to have a positive impact. I don't think it's great that this coalition is trying to decide for me what is best for me or my employees in my business."

According to a UK study released in 2005, the smoke-free law in Lexington did not have any significant economic effect on bars and restaurants. A study for the Lexington-Fayette County Food and Beverage Association countered that there was a 9.8 percent to 13.3 percent reduction in alcohol sales by wholesale distributors to hotels, bars and restaurants.

As of Oct. 31, 30 Kentucky communities had implemented smoke-free laws or adopted smoke-free regulations. The Bullitt County Board of Health in Shepherdsville adopted a comprehensive regulation in March, but a judge declared the ban void just days before it was to take effect.

The judge said the Bullitt health department overstepped its bounds to restrict smoking, but smoke-free advocates say health departments have authority under state law to abate "nuisances, sources of filth and sicknesses." The Bullitt County health department has appealed the judge's decision.

What happens on appeal might affect Clark, Madison and Woodford counties, where health departments also passed smoke-free regulations.

Because of the Bullitt County case, the Coalition for a Smoke-Free Bourbon County decided not to seek a health-department regulation but to push for a countywide ordinance through elected officials.

But going that route is no guarantee of success. Earlier this year, smoke-free advocates sought a smoking ban simultaneously from the Nicholasville City Commission, Wilmore City Council and Jessamine Fiscal Court.

But the three local governments could not come to consensus on a proposed ordinance, so the effort lapsed, and nothing passed.

If that happened in Bourbon County, it would be fine with Newberry, one of the billiard players.

"We have the government making up our minds for us enough as it is," he said.

Reach Greg Kocher at (859) 231-3305 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3305.

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