Has the time arrived for the Kentucky General Assembly to enact a statewide ban on public smoking? Maybe. At the very least, a bill to restrict public smoking in all 120 counties has gotten further in the 2013 General Assembly than it ever has. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is polls show more than six out of every 10 Kentucky adults support a state law restricting smoking. If a proposal to ban smoking in public across the state were placed on the ballot, there is no question voters would easily approve it. That’s because even in Kentucky — which ranks 49th or 50th among the states in the percentage of adult smokers — only a minority of adults smokes and most nonsmokers do not want to be forced to inhale the smoke produced by others when in public.
Neighboring Ohio banned smoking in public when people petitioned to place the issue on the ballot and it was overwhelmingly approved by voters. But a ballot initiative is not an option in Kentucky because such initiatives are banned in this state. That means for Kentucky to impose statewide restrictions on public smoking, the Kentucky General Assembly would have to do so by enacting a law.
Just a few years ago, it seemed impossible a majority of legislators in a state where tobacco was once the No. 1 cash crop would approve restrictions on public smoking. But to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changing.
During his State of the Commonwealth speech before the 138 members of the House and Senate Wednesday night, Gov. Steve Beshear called on legislators to approve a ban on public smoking throughout the state.
“Over the years, we’ve taken numerous steps to reduce Kentucky’s historic addiction to tobacco. And yet we still rank either dead last, or next to last, in the number of adults who smoke, teens who smoke and pregnant women who smoke,” the governor told legislators. “Our addiction hurts productivity, jacks up health care costs and kills our people. Our smoking-related mortality rate is the worst in the nation. Yet we’ve never instituted a statewide law to protect Kentuckians from second-hand smoke.
“More than half the states in the nation have smoke-free laws. So do three dozen cities and counties in Kentucky, including big urban areas like Louisville and Lexington, small communities like Manchester and Beattyville, and cities like Bardstown and Bowling Green, Paducah and Pikeville, and Hopkinsville and Henderson.
“In fact, nearly half of Kentucky’s citizens live in communities (like Ashland) that have adopted protections for their residents and workers. It’s time for us to begin looking seriously at doing this on a statewide level, and to extend this protection for all our citizens.”
“This isn’t a rights issue. People could still smoke. Just not in places where their smoke endangers the health of our workers and others.”
A day after Beshear’s speech, the House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill to ban smoking in public places statewide. The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.
Does all this mean the General Assembly will actually approve a bill to restrict public smoking that Beshear will sign into law? Frankly, we think that still is a bit of a long shot, but this is the first time a bill to restrict smoking has gotten anywhere in the General Assembly.
As we have said in the past, we think the time will come when legislators even in a tobacco state like Kentucky will approve a statewide ban on public smoking. Whether that time will be in 2013 remains to be seen, but it is clear public attitudes about smoking in public are changing and legislators eventually will listen to the will of the people and tell smokers to light up in their homes, in their vehicles or when alone, but not in public. Knowing the reluctance of legislators to take bold stands on anything the last bit controversial, we doubt if the statewide smoking ban will be this year, but it definitely is coming