Time for state smoking ban; Public support strong, benefits clear

Lawmakers should catch up with their constituents and make Kentucky the 25th state to enact a comprehensive smoke-free law.

When the session resumes in February, Reps. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, will sponsor legislation to do that.

At a time when the General Assembly faces so many thorny problems, taking the state smoke-free would be a simple, popular, inexpensive, bipartisan home run.

During the past two years, support among Kentucky adults for a smoke-free law has risen from 48 percent to 59 percent, according to a poll commissioned by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and conducted by the University of Cincinnati Institute for Policy Research. The rising public support is notable because it's well informed.

About a third of Kentuckians live in places that have comprehensive smoke-free laws, including regional magnets such as Lexington, Louisville, Richmond, Ashland, Bowling Green, Prestonsburg and Paducah. An additional 6 percent or so live in places with weaker smoking bans.

That means Kentuckians from all over the state have been personally exposed to the benefits of going smoke-free and know for themselves that there are no downsides.

The fear among restaurant and bar owners of lost business is a mirage, as has been proven time and again. Courts, including Kentucky's Supreme Court, have ruled that smoke-free laws do not violate property rights.

Among Kentucky voters, support for a smoke-free law is even stronger, with 64 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Democrats saying they support eliminating tobacco smoke from workplaces and other public settings.

Even among smokers, more than a third voiced support for a statewide smoking ban, according to the Kentucky Health Issues Poll which is based on interviews with 1,680 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent.

Going smoke-free would be one of the smartest moves possible in a state that suffers more than any other from tobacco addiction and lung cancer, has the highest rate of youth smoking and has been helpless to control spiraling health care costs.

The modest enforcement costs would be paid for many times over by savings in medical care and lost productivity.

Smoke-free policies produce both quick and long-term benefits.

Breathing secondhand smoke, which is a stew of carcinogens and toxic chemicals, affects a nonsmoker's blood vessels in as little as five minutes, causing changes that increase the risk of heart attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Exposure to secondhand smoke kills about 46,000 nonsmokers a year, says the National Cancer Institute.

Places that enact smoke-free laws, including Lexington, have recorded fairly quick decreases in people hospitalized for heart attacks, strokes and respiratory diseases such as asthma and emphysema.

Smart employers went smoke-free ages ago to save on health care, but tens of thousands of Kentuckians are still working in settings where secondhand smoke is killing them.

It's time to take smoke-free statewide.