Time for state smoking ban; the health hazard has been clear for 50 years

Fifty years ago, the U.S. Surgeon General issued the first government report linking smoking to health risks like lung cancer.

"Cigarette smoking is a health hazard of sufficient importance in the United States to warrant appropriate remedial action," the report urged in its conclusion.

Some of those remedies have yet to appear half a century on.

The long-stymied statewide smoke-free law is up for debate yet again before the General Assembly. Lawmakers should catch up with their constituents and make Kentucky the 28th state in the nation to enact a smoking ban.

The bipartisan, companion bills filed by State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and State Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, would do just that by prohibiting smoking in enclosed public spaces, including restaurants, bars and most workplaces.

The science could not be clearer.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, in the 50 years of tobacco control since the Surgeon General's warning, 8 million deaths were prevented, saving 157 million total years of life. As uplifting as that may sound, 18 million people died in the same period due to smoking-related illness.

And smoking costs the state of Kentucky nearly $4 billion a year in medical care and lost productivity.

Public support for a ban has steadily increased. A poll released by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky found that 65 percent of Kentuckians favor a smoking ban, up dramatically from the 48 percent support in 2010.

The rising approval is partially the result of better-educated Kentuckians on the severe health risks of secondhand smoke.

But the clear successes of comprehensive smoking bans in cities like Lexington, Louisville, Bowling Green and Ashland are resonating with many citizens.

The proposal faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, has made his personal opposition clear.

"I just don't believe it's the role of the government to step in and do something like that," he said to The Courier-Journal.

But Stivers seems to misunderstand the enormous consequences of public smoking on Kentuckians, both financially and emotionally.

When is the government supposed to step in, if not for the public health and safety of its own citizens?

We hope that the General Assembly overrides his objections and passes the bill. It's time to take the smoking ban statewide.