A majority of Kentucky voters approves of a legislative proposal to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, offices and other public places throughout the state.
Among registered voters, 57 percent support the measure under consideration by the General Assembly and 33 percent oppose it, according to the Herald-Leader/WKYT Bluegrass Poll. Ten percent are not sure.
Support for the idea swells with income and education levels. Seventy-two percent of people making more than $80,000 a year or with four-year college degrees approve of the measure. The ban wins support from only 44 percent of those who make less than $40,000 a year and 45 percent of those with a high school education.
There is little difference among Republicans and Democrats on the issue, with 56 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats in favor of a smoking ban.
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The poll was conducted in partnership with The Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville. Survey USA interviewed 1,082 registered voters from Jan. 30 to Feb. 3. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who has worked for the past several years to ban smoking in public places, said she was not surprised by the poll results. A poll done in November by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky showed an even higher approval rate of 65 percent, which was up from 48 percent in a similar 2010 survey.
"I think that one thing we've done is we've taken our show on the road to educate people across the state," Westrom said. "It has taken a long time to convince people this is not a ban on smoking, but a way to protect people from secondhand smoke."
Thirty-eight Kentucky municipalities, including Lexington and Louisville, already have comprehensive smoke-free laws. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 states and the District of Columbia also have smoking bans.
"What's always interesting to me is here we have these very popular laws, but we have a hard time convincing elected officials to support them," said Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke Free Policy at the University of Kentucky.
The proposed Kentucky smoking ban has passed out of legislative committees several times in recent years, but advocates said they have not taken it before the full House or Senate because there weren't enough votes to pass it.
Westrom and Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, said they hope positive polling results will help persuade their colleagues to approve a smoking ban.
"I would hope that regardless of the number of votes that people would try to do the right thing in protecting the health of our population," Denton said, adding that many people must work in places where others smoke.
"They can't find other employment," she said. "We owe it to everyone to have the choice to smoke or not."
Last week, House Bill 173 won approval from the House Health and Welfare Committee, but not before opponents voiced familiar opposition.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown, said he believes smoking is unhealthy, but "I choose to go to places that don't have smoking. I find it problematic that a substance that continues to be a major source of the economy in Kentucky is going to be prohibited."
Moore also said the bill curtailed individual freedoms.
Still, the idea of freedom from secondhand smoke in public places has gained a lot of momentum in Kentucky and the nation, Hahn said.
"People like these laws because they're common sense — people have the right to smoke, but they don't have the right to hurt someone else with their smoke," Hahn said.