Politics & Government

Lexington lawmaker proposes statewide smoking ban

FRANKFORT — State lawmakers on Thursday filed the first bill calling for a statewide ban on smoking in or near the entrances of workplaces and public places, including restaurants, bars, hotels and bingo halls.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, the primary sponsor, said it would be "a miracle" if the General Assembly approved her bill this year, although House and Senate leaders from both parties have expressed support for a statewide smoking ban.

A health-education campaign might be necessary to win enough votes, West rom said.

"We believe that smokers have the right to smoke if they want to, but ... private citizens don't want to inhale somebody else's smoke. The reality is, there is no risk-free level for secondhand smoke," Westrom said at a news conference in the Capitol.

Westrom was joined by health-advocacy groups and Dave Adkisson, president of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.

Most chamber members who responded to a recent poll supported greater restrictions on smoking in public places, Adkisson said. Increasingly, business executives recognize that smoking hurts their bottom lines through higher health-care costs and lost productivity due to sickness, he said.

"Smoking is not only killing us in Kentucky, it's bankrupting us," Adkisson said. "Business leaders have come to the conclusion that we have got to discourage smoking in this state."

Westrom's bill would require employers and business owners or managers to tell smokers to extinguish their cigarettes and to call the police if smokers refuse. Smokers could be fined $100 for a first offense and $250 for each additional offense. Employers and business owners or managers could be fined $250 to $2,500 for refusing to enforce the ban.

At the news conference, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids unveiled a statewide telephone survey that showed 59 percent favored a hypothetical state law that would prohibit smoking in public places. Thirty-nine percent of respondents opposed it.

A majority of Republicans, Democrats and independents supported the proposed ban in the poll of 500 likely Kentucky voters conducted Dec. 12 to 14, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C., have approved smoking bans for some or all public places, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In Kentucky, where 26 percent of adults smoke — the highest rate in the nation — 29 cities or counties have approved local public smoking bans, some broader than others. They include Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort, Georgetown, Woodford County and Madison County. Nearly one-third of the state's population lives in these communities, according to the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.

Pressure for public smoking bans has grown in recent years as more scientific evidence has documented the hazards of secondhand cigarette smoke.

On Dec. 9, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued a report stating that there is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Even low levels of exposure, such as secondhand smoke, can cause immediate damage to the body that leads to illness or death, Benjamin said.

"The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you inhale, causing damage immediately," Benjamin said. "Inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer."

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