Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, is teeing up another try at enacting a statewide ban on smoking in indoor public places.
Like last year, she has the support of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. Its members are smarting from the steep health-care costs and lost productivity that come from doing business in a state with the highest rate — one in four Kentuckians — of adult smoking.
"Smoking is not only killing us, it's bankrupting us," Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President David Adkisson told an interim legislative committee last week.
The serious hazards of breathing secondhand smoke are well documented. There is no safe level of exposure, and 31 local governments in Kentucky have enacted some form of smoke-free policy.
Places that have gone smoke-free include the state's two largest cities, Lexington and Louisville, as well as Richmond, Morehead, Bowling Green, Ashland and Pikeville. (To see a list and map, go to www.mc.uky.edu/tobaccopolicy/Ordinances/Smoke-freeOrdinances.HTM.)
Bullitt County has had to delay going smoke-free because of politics and litigation.
Bringing the benefits of smoke-free air to all Kentucky residents and businesses — without having to wait for local governments and health departments — would be a big advantage of a statewide law.
At the same time, the legislature must avoid doing anything that would weaken existing smoke-free laws or prevent local governments from enacting stronger smoking bans than whatever the legislature eventually enacts.
Westrom's proposal already has important bipartisan support in both chambers. Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, chairwoman of the Senate health committee, cited the "right to clean air."
Her counterpart in the House, Sen. Tom Burch, D-Louisville, also expressed support for Westrom's proposal.
The Courier-Journal's Deborah Yetter reported that Burch remarked on how far Kentucky has come.
When he introduced a statewide smoking ban 25 years ago, the bill was assigned to an agriculture committee whose members greeted his testimony by lighting up cigarettes.
The legislature banned smoking in the public areas of the Capitol just seven years ago, the same year that Lexington's smoke-free law, the state's first, took effect.
At the time there were dire warnings that Lexington's restaurant and bars would fold without smokers. If it's any consolation to those who are choking on secondhand smoke but afraid to take the plunge into clean air, Lexington's nightlife is going stronger than ever.