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Stricter smoking ban approved by Lexington panel

Smoking in Blue Grass Airport, bingo halls, public transportation and all workplaces could soon be a thing of the past in Lexington.

An Urban County Council committee on Tuesday approved several amendments to the city's smoke-free law that are designed to strengthen the 4-year-old law and to close loopholes that exempt some workplaces and private organizations.

The proposed changes would prohibit smoking in bingo halls and all workplaces, not just the ones the public has access to. It also extends the law to include public transportation such as cabs and LexTran buses, and it tightens the exemption for retail tobacco stores by increasing the minimum sales threshold needed to allow smoking inside. Also, private clubs are redefined so that booster clubs cannot be considered private clubs.

The committee's recommendation, approved 9-1, isn't final yet. The full council will be asked to act on the committee's recommendation Tuesday. The committee also plans to hold a public forum to take input on the proposed changes at 8 p.m. Oct. 23.

If approved, it would be the first revision of the city's smoke-free law since it was implemented in April 2004. The law prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars, grocery stores, coin-operated laundries and a host of other workplaces open to the public.

The council is doing the right thing by strengthening the law, said Ellen Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-Free Policy. "It's good for public health and it's certainly going to cover more workers in our city."

So far, the only organized opposition to the proposed changes comes from Blue Grass Airport, which is opposed to a provision that would ban smoking in all government buildings. That provision would force the closure of the four smoking lounges at the airport as well as the employee smoking room at the Fayette County Detention Center.

Blue Grass Airport wants to provide customers the amenity of smoking lounges past the security checkpoint, said Michael Gobb, the airport's executive director. "We're disappointed at this point that the council is considering eliminating smoking in the secure area of the airport."

The council should consider giving the airport an exemption because its customers don't always have the opportunity to leave the airport for a smoke and return in time for their flights, he said.

Also, once customers have cleared security, they don't want to wander too far from the gate for fear their plane will leave, Gobb said.

The airport has four smoking rooms, three of which are past the security checkpoint.

The airport doesn't have any problem with closing the smoking lounge in the ticketing lobby, because people can step outside for a smoke if they want, he said.

The smoking lounges at the airport were specifically designed so that they vent directly outside, Gobb said. The rooms themselves are pressurized so that when the doors are open, the smoke does not drift into the airport, he said.

Regardless of those precautions, smoking rooms have been shown to leak smoke, Hahn said.

In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General's report specifically said that enclosed smoking rooms do not work, Hahn said. "The only way to prohibit toxins from getting into the air and exposing people is to completely eliminate smoking, including smoking rooms. There is no reason to believe that smoking rooms are good for anybody, particularly the workers who have to clean and maintain them."

The airport has contracted with the University of Kentucky and OSHA to conduct tests on the airport's air quality outside the smoking lounges, Gobb said.

The data from those two studies should be available in time for the public forum, he said.

Across the country, more than 100 airports have closed smoking lounges. Airports that have closed their lounges include Louisville International Airport, San Francisco International Airport, Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy International Airport and La Guardia International Airport.

Blue Grass is competing with Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport for customers, not the others, Gobb said.

Councilman Dick DeCamp was the only vote against the amendments. He favors allowing smoking lounges in secure portions of the airport.