Politics & Government

Kentucky coalition seeking statewide smoking ban takes message to voters


FRANKFORT — Backers of an effort to ban smoking in all public places in Kentucky are taking their message on the road this week in hopes of getting legislation passed in the 2013 legislation session.

Smoke Free Kentucky, a coalition of non-profit, business and other groups, stopped Tuesday at the Frankfort headquarters of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, a longtime supporter of a statewide smoking ban.

The group kicked off its tour Monday in Louisville and Lexington and plans to visit Somerset, Bowling Green and Paducah. The weeklong tour will end Saturday at the annual Fancy Farm political picnic in Graves County.

"We know that a majority of Kentuckians support a smoke-free Kentucky," said Amy Barkley, chairwoman of the Smoke Free Kentucky Coalition. "We're going to end up at Fancy Farm to let people know that this will be a priority in the 2013 session."

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, has sponsored a statewide smoking ban for several years. During the 2012 legislative session, the House Health and Welfare Committee passed the measure, but the full House did not vote on it.

Westrom, who attended Tuesday's event in Frankfort, said she did not aggressively pursue the matter during the 2012 legislative session because all 100 members of the House are up for re-election in November.

"But we've had several members who have said that they will be co-sponsors" next year, she said.

Westrom said supporters are concentrating on getting the measure through the Democratic-led House. She said she is unsure how the Republican-led Senate would view a statewide smoking ban, although Senate President David Williams has previously said he supports the idea.

Opponents of the proposal have said it represents an overreach of government power.

"There are personal property rights that are being trampled," Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said when he voted against a statewide smoking ban in March.

Westrom, however, said there are an estimated 440,000 people without insurance in Kentucky. When those people are ill from smoking-related illnesses such as emphysema or asthma, Kentucky taxpayers pick up the tab.

"We all have to pay," she said.

About 34 percent of Kentuckians are covered by local smoking bans, according to the coalition. A 2010 poll showed that about 59 percent of Kentuckians support a statewide smoking ban.

Bryan Sunderland, a spokesman for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, said about 70 percent of the chamber's businesses support a smoking ban. Keeping employees healthy is good for Kentucky businesses, he said.

Although there have been concerns in many Kentucky communities that going smoke-free will hurt bars and restaurants, studies completed after Lexington went smoke-free in 2004 showed that the ban did not hurt businesses, Sunderland said.

"Those arguments don't hold true," he said.

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