When Senate President Robert Stivers wanted to bury a bill protecting all Kentuckians from secondhand tobacco smoke, he sent it to the Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection Committee chaired by Sen. Albert Robinson.
There it suffered a premature death — just like a disproportionate share of Stivers' and Robinson's constituents.
The end of the 2015 legislative session — in which a statewide smoking ban won House approval only to be snuffed in the Senate — coincided with the annual release of a ranking of U.S. counties by health status.
Of the 25 counties with the highest mortality rates, 11 are in Kentucky.
Stivers, R-Manchester, and Robinson, R-London, together represent four of the nation's deadliest counties (Clay, Owsley, Powell and Wolfe.)
The other Kentucky counties in the bottom 25 for life-expectancy are Breathitt, Floyd, Harlan, Knott, Leslie, Perry and Robertson.
Three nearby counties in West Virginia are also in the bottom 25.
"The unhealthiest region in the U.S. is arguably the heart of Appalachia, from eastern Kentucky into southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia," was Time magazine's take on the data. "Many of the counties have rates of smoking and obesity north of 30 percent of the population."
Compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation at www.countyhealthrankings.org/, the rankings make clear that smoking is not the only culprit in Eastern Kentucky's terrible health.
Poverty, limited access to health care, poor nutrition and lack of exercise are also responsible.
But the low life expectancy can't be explained away by an aging population. Statistical methods are used to adjust for age distribution, making county-to-county comparisons valid regardless of residents' ages.
In Stivers' district, where the adult smoking rate tops 40 percent in places, a high percent of non-smokers are also suffering health damage and shortened lives from breathing secondhand smoke on the job and in restaurants and other public places.
The explanation Stivers offers for blocking a statewide smoking ban is to avoid interfering with private enterprise.
News flash: Showing up on a list of the unhealthiest places in America is like putting up a sign at the county line telling private enterprise to go away.
Anyone looking to start or expand a business or make an investment is going to run from a place where costs are inflated and productivity depressed by a sick and disabled workforce.
Any "principled" aversion to a smoke-free law that Stivers or other lawmakers might harbor is far outweighed by the practical harm to Kentucky's people and economy.
Solving poverty is a complex puzzle. Helping people to quit smoking or never start is not. Many examples of how to do it are available, and smoke-free laws are a key element in the success stories.
Rejecting a public health protection that half the states already have, in the region where it's needed the most, has to be some definition of insanity.