What will it take to reverse generations of damage from chronic exposure to secondhand smoke?
For many years, Kentucky has had the dubious distinction of leading the nation in early death and disease from breathing in toxic tobacco smoke, both voluntarily and involuntarily.
I see the tragic results of our collective inaction in my practice as a physician every day. As a society we must act to address this issue, and we must do so for three reasons.
First, we know that banning smoking in public places is good policy that works. Decades of research have established beyond debate that making workplaces and public places smoke-free saves lives and money. Why not extend the protections Lexington enjoys to the entire commonwealth?
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Lexington has seen a 32 percent reduction in smoking since its smoke-free law took effect, with an estimated $21 million in health care cost savings every year. Smaller communities also have passed public smoking bans around the country with similar health and economic effects.
Second, it saves everyone money. Kentucky businesses could save $2.3 billion in lost productivity, and the state stands to save $1.5 billion in annual health care costs, if a statewide law is implemented.
It seems every government agency and business is looking for ways to save money these days, and this policy is a ready-made solution for the need to cut costs at every level.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, we must protect the health of those who choose not to smoke but are forced to inhale the smoke of others.
Graphic television commercials run during the past few years have shown the health effects of smoking in a way that might make some individuals feel uncomfortable, but they certainly reflect the real health consequences of smoking.
And we now know those same consequences await those who inhale secondhand smoke.
This is a public health issue that should be addressed, just like regulations affecting the water you drink, the food you eat and the medicines you take.
While more than one-third of Kentuckians are now protected from secondhand smoke in workplaces, two-thirds are not. Some state legislators say local officials should be responsible. Some local officials look to the General Assembly to pass a statewide smoke- free law.
We cannot keep passing the buck. Whose responsibility is it to ensure everyone breathes smoke-free air at work and in public places? Our problems are too intractable to count on just one group of policymakers to fix them.
We need vision, courage and leadership from all segments of society. Our health and our economy depend on it. I am sending an urgent plea to all leaders in state and local government, as well as those on local boards of health.
Let's leave Kentucky better tomorrow than it is today. Help make Kentucky smoke-free in workplaces and public spaces.