Ten years ago, on July 1, 11 brave Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council members voted to support Kentucky's first smoke-free ordinance. This historic vote has been called the "shot heard 'round the world" since smoke-free legislation was virtually unheard of in the South and Midwest at that time.
On this important 10-year anniversary, we celebrate lives saved and made better by Lexington's historic law. Smoke-free has worked in Lexington; it has had both positive health and economic benefits. It has also worked in 37 other Kentucky communities, countering the criticisms that such measures would hurt small businesses and local economies.
In fact, such measures don't do anything of the sort. The health benefits of tobacco-free laws are indisputable. And there is a strong body of evidence to suggest there are economic benefits as well.
It is time that all Kentuckians expect and enjoy smoke-free workplaces statewide.
The health and economic costs of inaction are simply too high.
Today, Lexington and other smoke-free communities are safer, healthier places to work and visit. Indoor air quality has improved dramatically. Workers report fewer breathing problems and are at less risk for heart disease and cancer that lead to early, painful death.
Fewer people smoke cigarettes (down 32 percent since the law took effect), and fewer individuals with asthma end up at the emergency room. Ask the many musicians who worked in Lexington's smoky venues 10 years ago, and they will tell you how the law has changed their lives for the better.
People living in smoke-free communities have come to take smoke-free air for granted, and smoke-free laws have indeed changed the culture of expectations. When children see smoking all around them, the cycle of tobacco use continues. When people are not allowed to smoke in workplaces and public places, children grow up thinking smoking is not the norm.
Lexington led the way and is now among 38 Kentucky communities with smoke-free ordinances or board of health regulations, including 23 that are comprehensive — covering all workplaces, including restaurants and bars. Overall, about one-third of Kentuckians are protected by comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws, compared to nearly half of the United States.
While we have seen much progress, we have considerable important work to do. Even in Lexington, workers like 18-year-old Jamason Coles continue to suffer from exposure to secondhand smoke. Coles had a life-threatening asthma attack at work after being exposed to secondhand smoke outside on a patio. He was simply trying to make a living, and it almost killed him.
Our children and loved ones deserve better.
Not only do smoke-free laws save lives. They also save money. We have no scientific evidence that local or state smoke-free legislation negatively influences local economies in rural or urban communities.
However, we do know that for every $1 earned growing tobacco during the past eight years, Kentucky spent more than $4 treating sick smokers.
Unfortunately, Kentucky's historic ties to tobacco run deep in many counties. But Kentucky can't afford to lead the nation in smoking, chronic disease and early and painful death — a cost of $1.5 billion a year treating sick smokers.
Allowing smoking at work and public places not only threatens the health and well-being of our current generation, but we are dooming our children to lives of disease and early death if we don't move forward now with comprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace legislation. The numbers and facts are clear. The health-care implications and costs are astounding.
Isn't it time we extend smoke-free protections — and the health benefits of those protections — to all Kentuckians?