Herald-Leader Editorial

Smoke-free law deserves a vote

February 7, 2014 

CVS is giving up $2 billion in annual sales by removing cigarettes from its shelves.

The nation's second-largest pharmacy with total sales of $123 billion apparently thinks that no longer retailing death and disease will give it a competitive edge as a health-care provider.

Not just CVS sees a competitive advantage in curtailing tobacco consumption, though.

The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, representing 92,000 businesses, surveyed its members last year and found that more than 90 percent of respondents support a statewide ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces, including most workplaces.

Legislation that would provide that, House Bill 173, cleared the House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday for the third year. Alas, it has yet to receive a vote in either chamber.

This year should be different. Kentucky leads the nation in smoking and cancer. Smoking and secondhand smoke drive up health-care costs for Kentucky's employers and taxpayers and depress economic productivity.

The U.S. Surgeon General recently reported new findings that inhaling tobacco smoke contributes to a raft of ailments from Type 2 diabetes to cleft lips and palates in fetuses.

This General Assembly, which has little money to invest in making the state more competitive, should leap on this opportunity to pass a no-cost pro-business bill.

The property rights and individual liberty arguments wielded against it are bogus. A century of legal precedent establishes that government has the authority — indeed, the duty — to protect public health. Many courts, including Kentucky's Supreme Court, have ruled that protecting workers and the public from secondhand smoke is a legitimate use of that authority.

Some will point to CVS as proof that individual businesses can take care of the problem on their own. But Kentucky can't afford to wait 100 years for that to happen. Tobacco-related disease is an economic crisis in this state.

Almost two-thirds of Americans live in places that have strong smoke-free laws. But only a third of Kentucky's population enjoys protections from secondhand smoke on the job and in restaurants and other public places.

This state has a long history with tobacco, but, as the chamber's Ashli Watts told a legislative committee last fall, "the health effects can no longer be ignored."

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