Push for smoke-free Ky. at local and state levels

A legislative proposal for a statewide smoke-free law is no excuse for letting up on local efforts.

As the bill's sponsor, Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, candidly admitted, it would take a "miracle" for the legislation to be enacted in this session of the General Assembly.

Still, it's great that Westrom and seven co-sponsors got the ball and this important discussion rolling. Kentuckians, who suffer more than most from tobacco-related disease, deserve statewide protections from secondhand smoke — the sooner the better.

We weren't surprised by a poll that found 59 percent of the state's voters support a statewide prohibition on smoking in workplaces, public buildings, offices, restaurants and bars. The poll found that 44 percent strongly favor such a law. Support also crosses party lines, including 60 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats.

Nor was it surprising that most members of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce who responded to a recent survey also supported greater restrictions on smoking.

"Smoking is not only killing us in Kentucky, it's bankrupting us," explained state Chamber President David Adkisson, speaking at the unveiling of House Bill 193.

Kentucky's high rate of smoking — tops among the nation's adults — hurts business by pushing up health care costs and depressing productivity because of sickness and disability.

Unfortunately, you don't have to be sucking on a cigarette to be harmed. Secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals, gases and poisons known to be toxic or carcinogenic. U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin issued a report last month saying that no level of exposure to tobacco smoke is risk free and that inhaling even the tiniest bit can alter DNA and lead to cancer. Passive smoking can also lead to heart attacks.

About a third of Kentuckians already live in places that have some form of public smoking ban. So a lot of others have experienced, if only temporarily, the benefits of smoke-free air and understandably want it for themselves.

Nonetheless, local elected officials will be tempted to use the statewide legislation as an excuse for doing nothing or delaying local protections against secondhand smoke.

They shouldn't. Local smoke-free ordinances are the backbone of effective statewide laws. And citizens have every right to expect their local governments to join the 29 cities or counties in Kentucky that have enacted public smoking restrictions.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo launched another important discussion when he filed a bill to make it illegal to smoke with a child in a car.

We'd like to think that adults in our state have enough smarts not to smoke with a child in a space as tightly confined as a car. Stumbo's HB 216 would help educate those who don't.

Yes, it would be difficult to enforce, just as the ban on texting while driving enacted by the legislature last year is difficult to enforce, but still worthwhile.

And the threat of even a $25 ticket will stop some smokers from gassing their own children and grandchildren.