If someone had told me 20 years ago, when I first began my public health career, that one day, 34 percent of Kentuckians would live in smoke-free communities, I would not have believed it.
Today, it is true.
It's true that more than 30 communities have laws or regulations protecting workers from secondhand smoke in restaurants, bars and other work sites. This is a good thing for the residents and workers in and visitors to these communities. And now, there is a broad-based endeavor to protect the health of all Kentuckians through a statewide policy.
We are all quite aware of the poor health statistics of our residents, so I'm not going to spend time belaboring the serious diseases linked to tobacco exposure and the dreadful facts placing Kentucky on the wrong end of the statistical curve related to these diseases.
I can, however, cite the benefits of reducing exposure to tobacco. When living in a tobacco-free area, young people — preteens and teens — are less likely to begin smoking because they see fewer peers and adults smoking. And the air quality improves for all residents — smokers and non-smokers — young and old.
Moreover, research shows that fewer people visit emergency rooms with heart attacks after a comprehensive smoke-free policy is enacted. Additionally, more people quit smoking when their community becomes smoke-free.
Nearly half of the 50 states have strong smoke-free-workplace laws. North Carolina, another tobacco state, went smoke-free Jan. 2, 2010, creating smoke-free public places, including restaurants and bars.
Businesses often rank a healthy environment as a top criterion when choosing a site to locate or relocate a business. A state that makes clean indoor air a priority sends a welcoming message to prospective employers, and Kentucky needs to be competitive in attracting these businesses.
Another draw for business is that health care costs decrease after a smoke-free policy is enacted. It is estimated that Lexington has saved $21 million a year in smoking-related health care costs since enacting its community ordinance.
Kentucky is known for its hospitality and beautiful places. We can be known, too, as a beautiful and healthful place to live, one that invites visitors and newcomers to bring their families and enjoy Kentucky.
Twenty years from now, our children will thank us for taking this bold step today.