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Statewide smoking ban gains attention

FRANKFORT — Anti-smoking advocates applauded Senate President David Williams on Tuesday for voicing support for a statewide public smoking ban, but said a ban should not take the place of an increase in the cigarette tax.

Moreover, advocates said they can't support a statewide smoking ban until they see the actual bill. One researcher also said such a ban would be premature and ineffective.

"We would be very supportive as long as it did not take away from local communities who already have comprehensive public smoking bans in place," said Mike Kuntz, of the American Lung Association of Kentucky.

On Kentucky Educational Television's Kentucky Tonight program on Monday, Williams, R-Burkesville, said he was behind a statewide smoking ban. Williams, who has said the state should consider more cuts before raising cigarette taxes, said advocates will back a statewide ban if they are serious about smoking cessation.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, also said Monday that he supports a statewide ban.

No lawmaker has filed a bill to ban smoking and at least one legislator expressed doubt Tuesday that such a ban would pass the Democratic-controlled House.

Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, said he does not think a statewide smoking ban would play well in his district.

"If a person doesn't want smoking in his place, he ought to put a sign on his door," Napier said.

The issue should be controlled locally, and not mandated by the state, Napier said.

Advocates said Tuesday that to make a dent in the number of smokers in Kentucky, public policy should include an increase in the cigarette tax, a comprehensive statewide ban and more money for smoking cessation and prevention.

Gov. Steve Beshear has proposed a 70-cent increase in the cigarette tax to help make up for a projected $456 million shortfall in the state budget.

"A smoking ban and raising the cigarette tax are complementary issues. Both could significantly affect the health of Kentuckians in a positive way," Beshear told reporters Tuesday.

Advocates agreed.

"This should not be an either/or. It should be both," Kuntz said.

There is concern that the legislature, in the spirit of compromise, could enact a statewide ban that is less restrictive than ones that cities such as Lexington and Louisville already have in place. .

Also, statewide bans are not effective if the legislature does not include money for public education and enforcement, advocates said.

"Most of our local laws are great," said Amy Barkley, with the Kentucky Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "We would insist that it would not be pre-emptive and it would not supersede local laws."

Williams, who said his father suffered from smoking-related illnesses, said he favors a comprehensive ban similar to ones in Louisville and Lexington, which bans smoking in most public places.

Even if the law is strong, some anti-smoking advocates question whether Kentucky is ready for a statewide ban.

Ellen Hahn, a professor at the University of Kentucky who has done extensive research on public policy and smoking bans, said Ohio passed a statewide public smoking ban that has not been effective because too few cities had passed a local ban.

"What's happened is that the communities that did not have a local law, they scoffed at it, and they don't have very good enforcement," Hahn said.

Kentucky currently has 21-smoke free communities, which account for about 30 percent of the state's population. For a statewide ban to work, more than 50 percent of the population should be covered, Hahn said.

Local bans work because the community has thoroughly debated the issue and enforcement is easy, Hahn said.

"We want a statewide ban when we are ready for one. But our data shows that we are not," Hahn said.