Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Opinion

February 10, 2014

Getting closer

This could be the year state enacts statewide smoking ban

ASHLAND — Although it is far from being a “sure thing,” there are growing indications that the 2014 Kentucky General Assembly will enact a law banning most smoking in public throughout the commonwealth.

Just a few years ago, few thought that such a far-reaching ban would ever be possible in a state where tobacco was once the major cash crop. After all, it was only 30 years ago that angry legislators threatened to withhold tax dollars to the University of Louisville for having the audacity to ban smoking in classrooms.

My how times have changed. On Thursday, the House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill to ban most smoking in public by a rather lopsided and bipartisan vote of 10-3. Legislators who had previously been silent on the issue of smoking in public were suddenly endorsing the bill sponsored by State Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington.

“We’re saving lives,” Westrom said after the committee vote. “We’re allowing people to have clean air that’s breathable.”

To be sure, the bill has its opponents. Republican Rep. Tim Moore of Hardin said the bill encroaches on the use of a legal product. “This is too far-reaching and impacts people’s liberty and freedom,” he said.

If the bill as expected is approved by the House, Republican Sen. Julie Denton of Louisville has agreed to be the major advocate for its approval in the Senate.

Denton acknowledged the challenge of passing sweeping anti-smoking restrictions in a state that typically posts some of the nation’s highest smoking rates. “I know that it’s going to take some ‘profiles in courage’ to get some people to vote on this bill because it may not be popular to smokers back home,” Denton said in a Senate speech. 

More than 20 cities and counties, including Ashland, have approved local ordinances restricting smoking in public, and not one those ordinances has been repealed. In fact, a number of the ordinances  have been strengthened.

Gov. Steve Beshear called on legislators to enact a statewide smoking ban in his State of the Commonwealth address, and the influential Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the state’s most powerful business organization, has made approval of a statewide smoking ban a part of its legislative agenda.  When the Bowling Green City Commission rejected an ordinance restricting smoking, those who opposed it lost their re-election bids and the new majority on the commission voted to restrict smoking.

However, perhaps the strongest argument for a state law to restrict smoking is a poll that shows nearly two-thirds of the state’s residents supported such a ban. Even more than 40 percent of smokers said they would support a statewide ban.

Times have changed. People no longer want to be accosted by tobacco smoke when dining out or shopping. Even in a state that has one of the nation’s highest rates of adult smokers, people want to be free of the odor of smoke. Legislators should have the courage to approve a bill that nearly two our of every three adults support.

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